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 February 5, 2023 is:

weal • \WEEL\  • noun

Weal is a somewhat old-fashioned word that refers to “a state of being happy, healthy, and successful.” Weal is usually ascribed to large groups of people, rather than individuals, as in the phrases “common weal” or “public weal.”

// Before presenting the bill to the legislature, the senator spoke of her devotion to the general weal.

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“… the [National Research Council’s] independent status was by design. While seeking to press science into service for the public weal, [astronomer George Ellery] Hale nevertheless wished to preserve science’s independence—a wish shared by many of his fellow scientists at the time.” — M. Anthony Mills, The New Atlantis, Summer 2021

Did you know?

Weal has, since the dawn of English, referred to well-being. It’s most often used in the phrase “common weal” to refer to the general good—that is, to the happiness, health, and safety of everyone in a community or nation. A closed form of this phrase, commonweal, has since the 14th century carried the same meaning, but it once also referred to an organized political entity, such as a nation or state. This job (among others) is now done by the word’s close relation, commonwealth. At one time, weal and wealth were synonyms; both meant “riches” (as in “all their worldly weal”) and “well-being.” Both words stem from wela, the Old English word for “well-being,” and are closely related to the Old English word for “well.” An unrelated word weal is a synonym of welt in its painful application.

Feb 05, 2023

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 4, 2023 is:

scrutinize • \SKROO-tuh-nyze\  • verb

Scrutinize means "to examine (something) carefully especially in a critical way."

// I closely scrutinized my opponent's every move before making my own.

// Her performance was carefully scrutinized by her employer.

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"U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Mike Lee will lead a new subcommittee investigating the lack of competition in ticketing markets. Klobuchar stressed the need to scrutinize Ticketmaster's dominance over the concert ticket market in light of chaotic Taylor Swift Eras Tour sales last week." — Jazz Monroe, Pitchfork, 23 Nov. 2022

Did you know?

Scrutinize the history of scrutinize far back enough and you wind up sifting through trash: the word comes from Latin scrutari, which means "to search, to examine," and scrutari likely comes from scruta, meaning "trash," the etymology evoking one who searches through trash for anything of value. The noun scrutiny preceded scrutinize in English, and in its earliest 15th century use referred to a formal vote, and later to an official examination of votes. Scrutinize was established in the 17th century with its familiar "to examine closely" meaning, but retained reference to voting with the meaning "to examine votes" at least into the 18th century. And while the term scrutineer can be a general term referring to someone who examines something, it is also sometimes used specifically as a term for an election poll watcher.

Feb 04, 2023

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 3, 2023 is:

challah • \HAH-luh or KHAH-luh\  • noun

Challah refers to an egg-rich yeast-leavened bread that is usually braided or twisted before baking and is traditionally eaten by Jewish people on the Sabbath and some holidays.

// One of her fondest food memories is the round challah her grandmother baked for holidays.

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“Flour was everywhere, scraps of fried potato lined the counters, dishes were piled up in the sink, and I somehow looked less camera-ready than I had at the start of the night, my hair falling out of its messy bun and my cooking wounds announcing themselves even from beneath Band-Aids. I didn’t care, though, because my house smelled like fresh challah, a scent I won’t even bother attempting to describe for fear of botching its essential goodness.” — Emma Specter, Vogue, 6 Oct. 2022

Did you know?

When English speakers first borrowed challah from Yiddish, they couldn't quite settle on a single spelling, so the word showed up in several forms; challah and hallah, and the plural forms challot, challoth, challahs, hallot, halloth, and hallahs were all common enough to merit inclusion in Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged when it was released in 1961. Today, challah and the anglicized plural challahs are the variants that are usually encountered by English speakers. The initial ch of challah is frequently pronounced as a velar or uvular fricative, like the ch in the German Buch or the Scottish English loch.

Feb 03, 2023

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 2, 2023 is:

portend • \por-TEND\  • verb

Portend is usually used in formal and literary contexts as a verb meaning “to give a sign or warning that something is going to happen.” The “something” in question is often, though not always, considered bad or unpleasant.

// Many superstitious people believe that breaking a mirror portends trouble.

// The old saying about a halo around the moon portending rain has some truth to it: the halo is caused by cirrus clouds drifting 20,000 feet or more above the Earth, and high cirrus clouds often precede stormy weather.

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“While readers may at times wish [author Robert] Hardman’s own views were presented more directly, he ultimately makes a clear argument that the United Kingdom—however loosely united it is these days—is unlikely to do away with the monarchy, even if the end of the Elizabethan era portends significant changes.” — Autumn Brewington, The Washington Post, 12 Sept. 2022

Did you know?

It may seem like a stretch to say that portend, beloved verb of seers, soothsayers, and meteorologists alike, is related to tendon—the word we use to refer to the dense white fibrous tissue that helps us, well, stretch—but it’s likely true. Portend comes from the Latin verb portendere (“to predict or foretell”), which in turn developed as a combination of the prefix por- (“forward”) and the verb tendere (“to stretch”). Tendere is thought to have led to tendon, among other words. So you might imagine portend as having a literal meaning of “stretching forward to predict.” In any event, the history of the word surely showcases the flexibility of our language.

Feb 02, 2023

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 1, 2023 is:

eleemosynary • \el-ih-MAH-suh-nair-ee\  • adjective

Eleemosynary means "of, relating to, or supported by charity."

// She used her inheritance to establish and fund several eleemosynary institutions.

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"I would not want you to think that Grady Thrasher is not a serious man. ... He is a retired attorney, a prize-winning children's author, a filmmaker, a philanthropist, and the partner, with his wife—artist Kathy Prescott—in various eleemosynary endeavors." — Pete McCommons, (Athens, Georgia), 2 Nov. 2022

Did you know?

A grammarian once asserted in reference to eleemosynary that "a long and learned word like this should only be used under the stress of great need." Whether or not you agree with such prescriptions, the word eleemosynary isn't exactly ubiquitous. Its tricky spelling doesn’t do it any favors—though this wasn’t always the case. The good people of early England had mercy on themselves when it came to spelling and shortened the root of eleemosynary, the Latin eleemosyna, to ælmes, which they used to mean "charity." (You may be more familiar with alms, an ælmes derivative that refers to food, money, etc., given to the poor.) The original Latin root, however, was resurrected in the early 17th century to give us our modern conundrum of a spelling.

Feb 01, 2023

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 31, 2023 is:

savant • \sa-VAHNT\  • noun

Savant is a formal word that refers to a learned person, especially someone with detailed knowledge about a particular subject. The word is also used to refer to a person affected with a developmental disorder who exhibits exceptional skill or brilliance in a particular subject or field.

// His sister is a computer savant, so he knows he can call her whenever he has technical issues.

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“Ever since he was a child growing up in Melbourne, Florida, [Rivian Automotive CEO, Robert Joseph] Scaringe wanted to start his own car company. He had developed a reputation as an automotive savant and tinkered on cars in his spare time, even keeping parts in his bedroom.” — Peter Valdes-Dapena, CNN Business, 22 Nov. 2022

Did you know?

Word-loving Homo sapiens will appreciate how much there is to know about savant. For one, savant comes ultimately from the Latin word sapere (“to be wise”) by way of Middle French, where savant is the present participle of savoir, meaning “to know.” Second, savant shares roots with the English words sapient (“possessing great wisdom”) and sage (“very wise”) (as well as Homo sapiens). Finally, the term is sometimes used to refer to a person who demonstrates extraordinary knowledge in a particular subject or has an extraordinary ability to perform a particular task (such as complex mathematics) but has more limited capacities in other areas.

Jan 31, 2023

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 30, 2023 is:

adapt • \uh-DAPT\  • verb

To adapt is to make or become fit (as for a new use) often by modification.

// When people move to a new country, it can take them a while to adapt.

// The teachers adapted the curriculum so that students of all abilities will benefit from it.

See the entry >


"Isaac Asimov's [Foundation] novels are collections of short stories and novellas spanning thousands of years, which makes them hard to adapt as a continuous story." — Belen Edwards,, 22 Dec. 2021

Did you know?

"Nothing in this world is as reliable as change" is a common aphorism and one we can certainly attest to as lexicographers. English speakers adapted adapt, for example, in the 15th century from the Middle French adapter, which was itself an adaptation of Latin adaptāre. That source traces back to Latin aptus, meaning "fit" or "apt." Other adaptations of aptus in English include aptitude, inept, and of course apt itself, as well as unapt and inapt.

Jan 30, 2023

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 29, 2023 is:

rubric • \ROO-brik\  • noun

Rubric is a somewhat formal word that is most often used to mean “an established rule, tradition, or custom” or “something under which a thing is classed.” In the latter use it is a synonym of category.

// Despite their widely divergent tones and levels of age appropriateness, Friday the 13th, Gremlins, and Frankenweenie all fall under the general rubric of horror movies.

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“Contrary to all the messages urging parents to do more for their kids, a growing number of research studies point to the advantages of doing less. Much of that research comes under the rubric of autonomy-supportive parenting, which essentially means allowing and encouraging kids to take greater charge of their own lives and do more for themselves.” — Peter Gray, Psychology Today, 30 May 2022

Did you know?

Centuries ago, whenever manuscript writers inserted special instructions or explanations into a book, they put them in red ink to set them off from the black used in the main text. (They used the same practice to highlight saints’ names and holy days in calendars, a practice which gave us the term red-letter day.) Ultimately, such special headings or comments came to be called rubrics, a term that traces back to ruber, the Latin word for “red.” While the printing sense remains in use today, rubric has developed other meanings over the years, and is most often encountered in its extended sense referring to a class or category under which something is organized.

Jan 29, 2023

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 28, 2023 is:

doctrinaire • \dahk-truh-NAIR\  • adjective

Doctrinaire is a formal word that means “stubbornly or excessively devoted to a doctrine or theory without regard to practical considerations.” It is often used disapprovingly to describe a person who has very strong beliefs about what should be done and who will not change those beliefs or accept other people's opinions.

// They were pleased by the shift in leadership, as their old mayor was extremely doctrinaire.

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“[The art exhibition,] In the Black Fantastic is a magnificent experience, spectacular from first to last. ... The premise is succinct: to unite artists from the African diaspora who use fantasy, myth and fiction to address racism and injustice. Apposite literary quotations appear on the walls, from Frantz Fanon and others. But there is nothing theoretical or doctrinaire about the work.” — Laura Cumming, The Guardian (London), 3 July 2022

Did you know?

The noun doctrine refers to a set of ideas or beliefs that are taught or believed to be true, and is often used specifically for the principles on which a government or religion may be based. Its adjectival form, doctrinal (“of, relating, or preoccupied with doctrine”), as in “doctrinal teachings,” is straightforward and not particularly judgmental. Doctrinaire, however, describes someone who is rigidly and impractically devoted to a doctrine. This critical connotation comes from the word’s history in post-revolutionary France as a name for members of a group of constitutional monarchists led by statesman and philosopher Pierre Paul Royer-Collard. Royer-Collard’s doctrine was opposed by both ultraroyalists and revolutionists, and he was given the nickname “doctrinaire,” which was later capitalized and extended to his colleagues, thereafter known as the Doctrinaires.

Jan 28, 2023

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 27, 2023 is:

wangle • \WANG-gul\  • verb

Wangle means “to get (something) by trickery or persuasion.” It can also mean “to adjust or manipulate for personal or fraudulent ends.”

// He managed to wangle his way into the party.

// They wangled me into pleading guilty.

See the entry >


“Discussions of how to wangle free shipping or discounts dovetailed with a proposition that the group start a fund-raiser for a family in need—a worthy use for money saved.” — Hannah Goldfield, The New Yorker, 27 Mar. 2021

Did you know?

You may have noticed a striking resemblance between wangle and wrangle, both of which have a sense meaning “to obtain or finagle.” But the two do not share a common history: wrangle is centuries older than wangle, and despite their overlap in both meaning and appearance, wangle is believed to have evolved separately by way of waggle, meaning “to move from side to side.” (Wrangle, by contrast, comes from the Old High German word ringan, meaning “to struggle.”) It’s possible, though, that wangle saved the “obtain” sense of wrangle from the brink of obsolescence—until recent decades, this usage had all but disappeared, and its revival may very well have been influenced by wangle. We wish we could wangle conclusive evidence to support this theory, but alas!

Jan 27, 2023

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 26, 2023 is:

knackered • \NAK-erd\  • adjective

Knackered is an adjective mostly used informally in British English to mean “very tired or exhausted.”

// Unfortunately, I was too knackered after work to join them for dinner.

See the entry >


“[Jonathan] Smith played world-class tennis in the Grand Slams of the 1970s. ... He calls croquet ‘a great game for anyone who’s a bit knackered’ after the strains on the joints and whatnot from a pursuit such as tennis or rugby.” — Chuck Culpepper, The Washington Post, 9 July 2022

Did you know?

An apt synonym for knackered might be the phrase “dead tired” for more than one reason. Knackered comes from the past participle of knacker, a slang term meaning “to kill,” as well as “to tire, exhaust, or wear out.” The origins of the verb knacker are uncertain, but the word is perhaps related to an older noun knacker. That word originally referred to a harness-maker or saddlemaker, and later to a buyer of animals no longer able to do farmwork (or their carcasses), as well as to a buyer of old structures. Knackered is used on both sides of the Atlantic but is more common among British speakers.

Jan 26, 2023