Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day

By Merriam-Webster

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 Jun 23, 2021
Love the word of the day.

 Jan 29, 2021

 Jun 8, 2020

 Jan 17, 2019
Always something to learn, even if I generally knew the word.

 Nov 25, 2018


Free daily dose of word power from Merriam-Webster's experts

Episode Date

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 27, 2022 is:

fructify • \FRUK-tuh-fye\  • verb

Fructify means “to make fruitful or productive” or “to bear fruit or profit.”

// Her parents are in a comfortable financial position, thanks to some investments that have recently begun to fructify.

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“After two seasons.... [Pamela] Adlon stepped up, hiring a writers’ room. And ‘Better Things’ kept going, fructifying into a closely observed and deeply felt portrait of one woman’s over-full life.” — Alexis Soloski, The New York Times, 26 Apr. 2022

Did you know?

Fructify comes from Latin fructus, meaning “fruit.” When the word was first used in English, it literally referred to the actions of fruit-bearing plants. Later it was used to refer to the action of making something literally or figuratively fruitful, such as soil or labor, respectively. These days fructify is more frequently used to refer to the giving forth of something in profit from something else (such as dividends from an investment). Fructus also gave us the name of the sugar fructose, as well as usufruct, which refers to the legal right to enjoy the fruits or profits of something that belongs to someone else.

Sep 27, 2022

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 26, 2022 is:

sporadic • \spuh-RAD-ik\  • adjective

Something described as sporadic occurs occasionally, irregularly, or randomly across time or space.

// The team’s regular meetings became sporadic over the summer months, when at some points up to half of its members were on vacation.

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“Over the decades, what began as sporadic nods to Black campus experiences has grown into more: portrayals that are both authentic and that challenge stereotypes about H.B.C.U. college life.” — Audra D.S. Burch, The New York Times, 26 May 2022

Did you know?

You never know where or when the occasion to use sporadic will pop up, but when it does, sporadic is the perfect choice to describe something that happens randomly or irregularly, often in scattered instances or isolated outbursts. The word comes from Medieval Latin sporadicus, which is itself derived from Greek sporadēn, meaning “here and there.” It is also related to the Greek verb speirein (“to sow”), the ancestor from which we get our word spore (the reproductive cell of a fungus, microorganism, or some plants), hinting at the seemingly scattered nature by which such cells spread and germinate.

Sep 26, 2022

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 25, 2022 is:

caucus • \KAW-kus\  • noun

A caucus is “a meeting of members of a political party for the purpose of choosing candidates for an election.” It also refers to “a group of people who meet to discuss a particular issue or to work together for a shared, usually political goal.”

// Members of the caucus debated long and hard to come to a unified position on the issue.

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“Doors open to committee members, candidates and their guests at 10 a.m. and the caucus is expected to begin at 11 a.m. ... At the caucus, each candidate will be allowed three minutes to speak to the committee members. They also will be allowed to invite someone to speak on their behalf in a two-minute introduction.” — Carley Lanich, South Bend (Indiana) Tribune, 18 Aug. 2022

Did you know?

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact origins of caucus, but some scholars think the word may have developed from an Algonquian term for a group of elders, leaders, or advisers. An early example of the word in use comes from John Adams, who in February of 1763 reported that the Boston “caucus club,” a group of politically active city elders, would soon meet and that, at the meetings, those present would “smoke tobacco till you [could not] see from one end of the garret to the other.” A similarly opaque smoke screen seems to cloud the history of caucus to this day.

Sep 25, 2022

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 24, 2022 is:

anthropomorphic • \an-thruh-puh-MOR-fik\  • adjective

Anthropomorphic means “described or thought of as being like human beings in appearance, behavior, etc.”

// The story chronicles the adventures of a group of anthropomorphic forest critters.

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“Dream and his six siblings are the anthropomorphic personifications of universal concepts. Despite their cosmic importance, they also bicker and bond like a real family.” — Christian Holub, Entertainment Weekly, 26 July 2022

Did you know?

As word lovers, we are endlessly fascinated by the uniqueness and complexity of human language. Many species use sounds and gestures to communicate with one another, but the ability to speak in full sentences, to share abstract ideas, and to write and tell stories is distinctly anthropic. Brilliant though dogs may be, they can’t verbalize their hopes and dreams. That is, unless those dogs are anthropomorphic—a trait common in works of fiction. From chatty chiweenies to tangoing tapirs, depictions of anthropomorphic animals abound thanks to our creative superpowers.

Sep 24, 2022

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 23, 2022 is:

misnomer • \miss-NOH-mer\  • noun

Misnomer means “an incorrect name or designation.” It can also be used to refer to the act of wrongly naming or designating, as in “calling complicated and varied climatic changes ‘global warming’ is something of a misnomer.”

// Peanut is one of the most famous misnomers, because peanuts are legumes, not true nuts.

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“The librarian of the Oregon Grotto, which is a bit of a misnomer because it’s focused on southern Washington, is the official keeper of approximately 600 tightly protected cave maps that reveal the secret locations of every documented cave in the region.” — Kate Robertson, The Guardian (London), 29 Mar. 2022

Did you know?

What’s in a name? Well, in some cases, a name will contain an error, a misunderstanding, or a mislabeling. Historians have long noted that the Holy Roman Empire was not holy, nor Roman, nor an empire. The Battle of Bunker Hill was actually fought on Breed’s Hill. And the Pennsylvania Dutch are in fact of German ancestry. For such cases, we have the term misnomer, which can refer both to the use of an incorrect or inappropriate designation (as in “it’s a misnomer to call an orca a ‘killer whale’”) or to the designation itself. Regardless, there’s no mistaking the source of misnomer: it comes from the Anglo-French verb mesnomer (“to misname”) and ultimately has its roots in nomen, the Latin word for “name.”

Sep 23, 2022

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 22, 2022 is:

defer • \dih-FER\  • verb

Defer means “to choose to do (something) at a later time.”

// She deferred her master’s program for a year so that she could travel the world.

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“... lack of access to regular mortgage lending forces our clients to turn to predatory alternative lending and rent-to-own schemes or defer making needed repairs to their aging homes.” — Rachel Labush and Michael Froehlich, The Philadelphia Inquirer, 29 Aug. 2022

Did you know?

There are two distinct words spelled defer in English, each with its own history and meaning. The defer having to do with allowing someone else to decide or choose something, or with agreeing to follow someone else’s decision, tradition, etc., (as in “He deferred to his parents’ wishes”) comes from the Latin verb dēferre, meaning “to bring down, convey, transfer, submit.” The defer synonymous with delay comes from Latin differre, which itself has several meanings, including two that resound in its English descendant: “to postpone” and “to delay.” Another meaning of differre is “to be unlike or distinct,” which makes apparent another of its descendants: differ, meaning “to be different.”

Sep 22, 2022

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 21, 2022 is:

perspicacious • \per-spuh-KAY-shus\  • adjective

Perspicacious is a formal word that means “possessing acute mental vision or discernment.” Someone who is perspicacious has a keen ability to notice and understand things that are difficult or not obvious.

// She considers herself a perspicacious judge of character.

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“Some of the film’s performances are merely peculiar and others merely apt, but [actor Don] Cheadle is thrilling, with coiled strength and a perspicacious gaze that seems to realize ideas in motion.” — Richard Brody, The New Yorker, 1 July 2021

Did you know?

Some perspective on perspicacious: the word combines the Latin perspicac- (from perspicax meaning “clear-sighted,” which in turn comes from perspicere, “to see through”) with the common English adjective suffix -ious. The result is a somewhat uncommon word used to describe someone (such as a reader or observer) or something (such as an essay or analysis) displaying the perception and understanding of subtleties others tend to miss, such as the distinctions between the words perspicacious, shrewd, sagacious, and astute—something our synonym chooser can help with.

Sep 21, 2022

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 20, 2022 is:

verdigris • \VER-duh-greess\  • noun

Verdigris is a green or bluish deposit, usually of copper carbonates, that forms on copper, brass, or bronze surfaces.

// We removed the verdigris from Grandma’s old copper jewelry by first soaking it in lemon juice, then gently polishing it with a soft rag.

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“There’s a standard shower room, but also—drum roll—an outside bath, which is private thanks to a wooden fence, so you can concentrate on the canopy of tree branches shimmering and rustling overhead. This tub is made of copper, all dappled with verdigris and it rumbles loudly as it slowly fills up.” — Gaby Soutar, The Scotsman (Edinburgh, Scotland), 13 July 2022

Did you know?

“Green of Greece”—that is the literal translation of vert de Grece, the Anglo-French phrase from which we get the modern word verdigris. A coating of verdigris forms naturally on copper and copper alloys such as brass and bronze when those metals are exposed to air. (It can also be produced artificially.) Like cinnabar, fuchsia, and amaranth before it, however, verdigris is also seeing increased use as a color name that can be applied to anything suggestive of its particular hue. For more colorful history you might enjoy this article before testing your knowledge with a quiz.

Sep 20, 2022

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 19, 2022 is:

haywire • \HAY-wyre\  • adverb or adjective

Haywire means “being out of order or having gone wrong” or “emotionally or mentally upset or out of control.” It is often used in the phrase “go haywire.”

// The company's emailing system went haywire and sent out multiple copies of the advertisement to its subscribers.

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“Something, I suspect, is going haywire in the frying process, an interaction that leads to those off-putting aromas. Is the oil not hot enough, thereby clinging to the [French toast] sticks and leaving behind the flavors of whatever was fried in it previously? Were they fried too long?” — Tim Carman, The Washington Post, 17 Aug. 2022

Did you know?

The noun haywire refers to a type of wire once used in baling hay and sometimes for makeshift repairs. This hurried and temporary use of haywire gave rise to the adjective (and sometimes adverb) haywire. When the adjective was first used in the early 20th century, it was primarily found in the phrase “haywire outfit,” which originally denoted a poorly equipped group of loggers, and then anything that was flimsy or patched together. This led to a “hastily patched-up” sense, which in turn gave us the now-common meaning, “being out of order or having gone wrong.” The “crazy” sense of haywire may have been suggested by the tendency of the relatively weak and rust-prone wire to fail at inopportune times, or to get tangled around legs, or possibly to the disorderly appearance of the temporary repair jobs for which it was used.

Sep 19, 2022

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 18, 2022 is:

exponent • \ik-SPOH-nunt\  • noun

Exponent refers to “someone who supports a particular cause or belief” as well as “someone who is known for a particular method or style.”

// He was a leading exponent of animal rights.

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“Onscreen, [Tom] Cruise is unmistakably our biggest movie star, as the New York Times reporter Nicole Sperling recently explained—the last true exponent of a century-old studio system that has been steadily eroded by the rising forces of franchise filmmaking and streaming.” — Calum Marsh, The New York Times, 5 July 2022

Did you know?

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that exponent and proponent have a lot in common. While the two share visual similarities and closely related definitions, they also have a common ancestor: the Latin ponere, meaning “to put.” Exponent comes from exponere, meaning “to explain, expound, or set forth,” while proponent comes from proponere, meaning “to expose to view, bring to one’s attention, propose.” Today, proponent usually refers to someone who argues in favor of something. Exponent can also refer to someone who is an advocate, but it tends to refer especially to someone who stands out as a shining representative of something. In addition, it has kept its earlier meaning of “one who expounds,” as well as its mathematical symbol meaning.

Sep 18, 2022