Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day

By Merriam-Webster

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

 Nov 25, 2018

Franz Lang
 Nov 6, 2018
Very concise and includes interesting info like etymology or historical references.

 Jul 11, 2018
a word a day is often interesting but would prefer more advanced words


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

Episode Date

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 20, 2019 is:

wherewithal • \WAIR-wih-thawl\  • noun

: means or resources for purchasing or doing something; specifically : financial resources : money


If I had the wherewithal, I'd buy that empty lot next door and put in a garden.

"Typically, when a person makes more money and has more savings, they add credit such as signing up for a new card or taking on a car loan. That's because they're confident they have the financial wherewithal to pay back the debt." — Janna Herron, USA Today, 5 Dec. 2018

Did you know?

Wherewithal has been with us in one form or another since the 16th century. It comes from our still-familiar word where, and withal, a Middle English combination of with and all, meaning "with." Wherewithal has been used as a conjunction meaning "with or by means of which" and as a pronoun meaning "that with or by which." These days, however, it is almost always used as a noun referring to the means or resources—especially financial resources—one has at one's disposal.

Jan 20, 2019

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 19, 2019 is:

gargantuan • \gahr-GAN-chuh-wuhn\  • adjective

: tremendous in size, volume, or degree : gigantic, colossal


"In 1920, the town council of Chamonix … decided to change the municipality's name to Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, thus forging an official link to the mountain … with a summit that soars 12,000 feet above the town center. The council's goal was to prevent their Swiss neighbors from claiming the mountain's glory, but there was really no need: It's impossible when you're in Chamonix to ignore the gargantuan, icy beauty that looms overhead." — Paige McClanahan, The New York Times, 13 Dec. 2018

"Due to our gargantuan scope, Houston is a haven for live music. As the nation's fourth largest city, we have become a destination for touring acts by default—it certainly isn't because of our collective reputation as an audience…." — Matthew Keever, The Houston Press, 17 Dec. 2018

Did you know?

Gargantua is the name of a giant king in François Rabelais's 16th-century satiric novel Gargantua, the second part of a five-volume series about the giant and his son Pantagruel. All of the details of Gargantua's life befit a giant. He rides a colossal mare whose tail switches so violently that it fells the entire forest of Orleans. He has an enormous appetite: in one memorable incident, he inadvertently swallows five pilgrims while eating a salad. The scale of everything connected with Gargantua gave rise to the adjective gargantuan, which since William Shakespeare's time has been used of anything of tremendous size or volume.

Jan 19, 2019

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 18, 2019 is:

teetotaler • \TEE-TOH-tuh-ler\  • noun

: one who practices or advocates teetotalism : one who abstains completely from alcoholic drinks


"… he is one of those fit older people who have redefined what 74 can look like. It probably helps that he is a teetotaler, a choice he made as a young man, having been disturbed by the effect that alcohol had on members of his family." — David Kamp, Vanity Fair, December 2017

"The names Rockefeller and Diego Rivera are forever intertwined thanks to the Mexican artist's infamous mural at Rockefeller Center, which the family commissioned in 1932 and had demolished two years later—due in part to its depiction of the teetotaler John D. Rockefeller Jr. sipping a martini." — Adam Rathe, Town & Country, May 2018

Did you know?

A person who abstains from alcohol might choose tea as his or her alternative beverage, but the word teetotaler has nothing to do with tea. More likely, the "tee" that begins the word teetotal is a reduplication of the letter "t" that begins total, emphasizing that one has pledged total abstinence. In the early 1800s, tee-total and tee-totally were used to intensify total and totally, much the way we now might say, "I'm tired with a capital T." "I am now … wholly, solely, and teetotally absorbed in Wayne's business," wrote the folklorist Parson Weems in an 1807 letter. Teetotal and teetotaler first appeared with their current meanings in 1834, eight years after the formation of the American Temperance Society.

Jan 18, 2019

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 17, 2019 is:

farouche • \fuh-ROOSH\  • adjective

1 : unruly or disorderly : wild

2 : marked by shyness and lack of social graces


"Though she wrote three 'novels' (more extended free associations than novels as we know them), she is best thought of as a poet of small, farouche poems illustrated with doodles…." — Rosemary Dinnage, The New York Review of Books, 25 June 1987

"Jeremy Irons's natural mode as an actor is fastidious rather than farouche, but he perfectly captures James Tyrone's professional extravagance and personal meanness." — Michael Arditti, The Sunday Express, 11 Feb. 2018

Did you know?

In French, farouche can mean "wild" or "shy," just as it does in English. It is an alteration of the Old French word forasche, which derives via Late Latin forasticus ("living outside") from Latin foras, meaning "outdoors." In its earliest English uses, in the middle of the 18th century, farouche was used to describe someone who was awkward in social situations, perhaps as one who has lived apart from groups of people. The word can also mean "disorderly," as in "farouche ruffians out to cause trouble."

Jan 17, 2019

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 16, 2019 is:

nomothetic • \nah-muh-THET-ik\  • adjective

: relating to, involving, or dealing with abstract, general, or universal statements or laws


"Moreover, there is the often-incorrect assumption that crimes and offenders are sufficiently similar to be lumped together for aggregate study. In such cases the resulting nomothetic knowledge is not just diluted, it is inaccurate and ultimately misleading." — Brent E. Turvey, Criminal Profiling, 2011

"First, they can expect to find an investigation of the ways in which males and females differ universally: that is, of the nomothetic principles grounded in biology and evolutionary psychology that govern sex-differentiated human development." — Frank Dumont, A History of Personality Psychology, 2010

Did you know?

Nomothetic is often contrasted with idiographic, a word meaning "relating to or dealing with something concrete, individual, or unique." Where idiographic points to the specific and unique, nomothetic points to the general and consistent. The immediate Greek parent of nomothetic is a word meaning "of legislation"; the word has its roots in nomos, meaning "law," and -thetēs, meaning "one who establishes." Nomos has played a part in the histories of words as varied as metronome, autonomous, and Deuteronomy. The English contributions of -thetēs are meager, but -thetēs itself comes from tithenai, meaning "to put," and tithenai is the ancestor of many common words ending in -thesishypothesis, parenthesis, prosthesis, synthesis, and thesis itself—as well as theme, epithet, and apothecary.

Jan 16, 2019

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 15, 2019 is:

liaison • \LEE-uh-zahn\  • noun

1 : a binding or thickening agent used in cooking

2 a : a close bond or connection : interrelationship

b : an illicit sexual relationship : affair

3 a : communication for establishing and maintaining mutual understanding and cooperation (as between parts of an armed force)

b : a person who establishes and maintains communication for mutual understanding and cooperation

4 : the pronunciation of an otherwise absent consonant sound at the end of the first of two consecutive words the second of which begins with a vowel sound and follows without pause


"Brennan and Alejandro Castro agreed on a series of steps to build confidence. One called for the Cubans to post an officer in Washington to act as a formal liaison between the two countries' intelligence agencies." — Adam Entous, The New Yorker, 19 Nov. 2018

"… the book offers vignettes that describe Smith's childhood as the youngest of seven Irish-American kids in Chicago; his sister's short liaison with a married British man who shared the surname Smith; and a panicked hashish trip in Amsterdam." — Kirkus Reviews, 1 Dec. 2018

Did you know?

If you took French in school, you might remember that liaison is the term for the phenomenon that causes a silent consonant at the end of one word to sound like it begins the next word when that word begins with a vowel, so that a phrase like beaux arts sounds like \boh zahr\. We can thank French for the origin of the term, as well. Liaison derives from the Middle French lier, meaning "to bind or tie," and is related to our word liable. Our various English senses of liaison apply it to all kinds of bonds—from people who work to connect different groups to the kind of relationship sometimes entered into by two people who are attracted to one another.

Jan 15, 2019
mea culpa

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 14, 2019 is:

mea culpa • \may-uh-KOOL-puh\  • noun

: a formal acknowledgment of personal fault or error


The mayor's public mea culpa for his involvement in the scandal didn't satisfy his critics.

"The internal investigation ended with a mea culpa from the sheriff's department and a reprimand and reassignment for a deputy overseeing the property room." — Allie Morris, The Houston Chronicle, 15 Nov. 2018

Did you know?

Mea culpa, which means "through my fault" in Latin, comes from a prayer of confession in the Catholic Church. Said by itself, it's an exclamation of apology or remorse that is used to mean "It was my fault" or "I apologize." Mea culpa is also a noun, however. A newspaper might issue a mea culpa for printing inaccurate information, or a politician might give a speech making mea culpas for past wrongdoings. Mea culpa is one of many English terms that derive from the Latin culpa, meaning "guilt." Some other examples are culpable ("meriting condemnation or blame especially as wrong or harmful"), culprit ("one guilty of a crime or a fault"), and exculpate ("to clear from alleged fault or guilt").

Jan 14, 2019

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 13, 2019 is:

clement • \KLEM-unt\  • adjective

1 : inclined to be merciful : lenient 

2 : not severe : mild


The judge decided to be clement and said she would forgive the young defendants so long as they paid back the money they stole from the fundraiser.

"Eagle Scout Michael Eliason completed his project by literally blazing a trail: he created a half-mile-long trail along a Heights park still being developed along the Yellowstone River, Dover Park. 'We rototilled and used pickaxes on it, and we had to wait until the weather was clement,' he said." — Mike Ferguson, The Billings Gazette, 24 Nov. 2014

Did you know?

Defendants in court cases probably don't spend much time worrying about inclement weather. They're too busy hoping to meet a clement judge so they will be granted clemency. They should hope they don't meet an inclement judge! Clement, inclement, and clemency all derive from the Latin clemens, which means "mild" or "calm." All three terms can refer to an individual's degree of mercy or to the relative pleasantness of the weather.

Jan 13, 2019

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 12, 2019 is:

boycott • \BOY-kaht\  • verb

: to engage in a concerted refusal to have dealings with (a person, a store, an organization, etc.) usually to express disapproval or to force acceptance of certain conditions


"Chinese boycotted Norwegian salmon over the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the late dissident writer Liu Xiaobo. They stopped buying fruit from the Philippines amid a dispute over territory in the South China Sea." — Associated Press, 13 Dec. 2018

"[Saul] Bellow … showed up at President Johnson's White House Festival of the Arts in the summer of 1965, which other writers, such as Philip Roth (a friend and follower) and Robert Lowell, boycotted to protest against the war in Vietnam." — Benjamin Markovits, The Spectator, 17 Nov. 2018

Did you know?

In the 1870s, Irish farmers faced an agricultural crisis that threatened to result in a repeat of the terrible famine and mass evictions of the 1840s. Anticipating financial ruin, they formed a Land League to campaign against the rent increases and evictions landlords were imposing as a result of the crisis. Retired British army captain Charles Boycott had the misfortune to be acting as an agent for an absentee landlord at the time, and when he tried to evict tenant farmers for refusing to pay their rent, he was ostracized by the League and community. His laborers and servants quit, and his crops began to rot. Boycott's fate was soon well known, and his name became a byword for that particular protest strategy.

Jan 12, 2019

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 11, 2019 is:

syllogism • \SIL-uh-jiz-um\  • noun

1 : a deductive scheme of a formal argument consisting of a major and a minor premise and a conclusion

2 : a subtle, specious, or crafty argument

3 : deductive reasoning


"Plato's pupil Aristotle developed the techniques of logical analysis that still enable us to get at the knowledge hidden within us. He examined propositions by stating possible contradictions and developed the syllogism, a method of proof based on stated premises." — Mary Lefkowitz, The New York Times Book Review, 23 Jan. 2000

"In some states … there are calls to eliminate courses in literature, philosophy, history and other fields of the humanities. Students want and need technical, employable skills, not sonnets or syllogisms, it is said." — Scott D. Miller, The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Virginia), 3 June 2018

Did you know?

For those trained in formal argument, the syllogism is a classical form of deduction, specifically an argument consisting of a major and a minor premise and a conclusion. One example is the inference that "kindness is praiseworthy" from the premises "every virtue is praiseworthy" and "kindness is a virtue." Syllogism came to English through Anglo-French from Latin syllogismus, which in turn can be traced back to the Greek verb syllogizesthai, meaning "to infer." In Greek logizesthai means "to calculate" and derives from logos, meaning "word" or "reckoning." Syl- comes from syn-, meaning "with" or "together."

Jan 11, 2019