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Very concise and includes interesting info like etymology or historical references.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 March 22, 2019 is:

purview • \PER-vyoo\  • noun

1 a : the body or enacting part of a statute

b : the limit, purpose, or scope of a statute

2 : the range or limit of authority, competence, responsibility, concern, or intention

3 : range of vision, understanding, or cognizance


"The Supreme Court had ruled that the House has purview over ordering a new election…." — Dan Haar, The New Haven (Connecticut) Register, 13 Feb. 2019

"In getting the role of president of NBC Entertainment's Alternative and Reality Group, [Meredith] Ahr now commands one of the biggest unscripted portfolios in television. Adding the network to her purview means that she also will be the executive overseeing TV's two biggest reality properties, America's Got Talent and The Voice." — Michael O'Connell,, 19 Nov. 2018

Did you know?

You might guess that there is a connection between purview and view. Purview comes from purveu, a word often found in the legal statutes of 13th- and 14th-century England. These statutes, written in Anglo-French, opened with the phrases purveu est and purveu que, which translate literally to "it is provided" and "provided that." Purveu derives from porveu, the past participle of the Old French verb porveeir, meaning "to provide." View derives (via Middle English) from the past participle of another Anglo-French word, veer, meaning "to see," and ultimately from Latin vidēre, of the same meaning.

Mar 22, 2019

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 21, 2019 is:

hamartia • \hah-mahr-TEE-uh\  • noun

: a flaw in character that brings about the downfall of the hero of a tragedy : tragic flaw


Greed was the hamartia that ultimately brought down the protagonist.

"Characters in Greek tragedies usually had a hamartia, or fatal flaw. Hubris, pride, presumption and arrogance were some of the chief character traits that brought down peasants and emperors alike." — Christine Barnes, The Tallahassee (Florida) Democrat, 6 May 2010

Did you know?

Hamartia arose from the Greek verb hamartanein, meaning "to miss the mark" or "to err." Aristotle introduced the term in the Poetics to describe the error of judgment which ultimately brings about the tragic hero's downfall. As you can imagine, the word is most often found in literary criticism. However, media writers occasionally employ the word when discussing the unexplainable misfortune or missteps of celebrities regarded as immortal gods and goddesses before being felled by their own shortcomings. For example, a writer for The New Republic in an April 2018 review of Chappaquiddick (a movie about U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy) comments that "Kennedy's ruthlessness and ambition, which are treated as the family's hamartia in Chappaquiddick, are swept under the rug of his compassion."

Mar 21, 2019

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

canker • \KANG-ker\  • verb

1 : to become infested with erosive or spreading sores

2 : to corrupt the spirit of

3 : to become corrupted


"Nevertheless, the self-absorption into which the lovers fall and the death and transfiguration with which the action ends have often been thought of as symptoms of a disease that cankers the human condition." — Simon Williams, Wagner and the Romantic Hero, 2004

"They want to talk. They want to get it off their chest. Some people have been holding onto these things for years, just cankering their soul, but they don't know where to say it." — Shannon Hale, quoted in The Deseret News, 12 Mar. 2018

Did you know?

Canker is commonly known as the name for a type of spreading sore that eats into the tissue—a use that obviously furnished the verb with both its medical and figurative senses. The word ultimately traces back to Latin cancer, which can refer to a crab or a malignant tumor. The Greeks have a similar word, karkinos, and according to the ancient Greek physician Galen, the tumor got its name from the way the swollen veins surrounding the affected part resembled a crab's limbs. Cancer was adopted into Old English, becoming canker in Middle English and eventually shifting in meaning to become a general term for ulcerations. Cancer itself was reintroduced to English later, first as a zodiacal word and then as a medical term.

Mar 20, 2019

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

orthography • \or-THAH-gruh-fee\  • noun

1 a : the art of writing words with the proper letters according to standard usage

b : the representation of the sounds of a language by written or printed symbols

2 : a part of language study that deals with letters and spelling


English orthography was not yet regularized in William Shakespeare's time, so words often had many different spellings.

"He had to finish his thesis … before leaving for a research job in Australia, where he planned to study aboriginal languages. I asked him to assess our little experiment. 'The grammar was easy,' he said. 'The orthography is a little difficult, and the verbs seemed chaotic.'" — Judith Thurman, The New Yorker, 3 Sept. 2018

Did you know?

"It's a damn poor mind that can only think of one way to spell a word!" That quote, ascribed to Andrew Jackson, might have been the motto of early English spelling. The concept of orthography (a term that derives from the Greek words orthos, meaning "right or true," and graphein, meaning "to write") was not something that really concerned people until the introduction of the printing press in England in the second half of the 15th century. From then on, English spelling became progressively more uniform and has remained fairly stable since the 1755 publication of Samuel Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language (with the notable exception of certain spelling reforms, such as changing musick to music, that were championed by Noah Webster).

Mar 19, 2019

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

parabolic • \pair-uh-BAH-lik\  • adjective

1 : expressed by or being a parable : allegorical

2 : of, having the form of, or relating to a curve formed by the intersection of a cone and a plane parallel to an element of the cone


The batter launched the ball into a towering parabolic arc that carried it well over the center field fence.

"In 1937, [radio astronomer Grote] Reber built the world's first parabolic radio telescope in his backyard. The Reber Telescope was moved to the National Radio Observatory at Green Bank in the 1960s and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1989." — Princeton Times (West Virginia), 21 Dec. 2018

Did you know?

The two distinct meanings of parabolic trace back to the development of Late Latin and New Latin. Late Latin is the Latin language used by writers in the third to sixth centuries. In that language, the word for "parable" was parabola—hence, the "parable" sense of parabolic. New Latin refers to the Latin used since the end of the medieval period, especially in regard to scientific description and classification. In New Latin, parabola names the same geometrical curve as it does in English. Both meanings of parabola were drawn from the Greek word for "comparison": parabolē.

Mar 18, 2019

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

smithereens • \smih-thuh-REENZ\  • plural noun

: fragments, bits


"For the Soviet Union, it didn't matter that Luna 2, which became the first spacecraft to reach the moon, had been smashed into smithereens. The point was to get there first—to mark territory." — Marina Koren, The Atlantic, 3 Jan. 2019

"Diagnosed at around age 5 with optic nerve atrophy, an incurable and often progressive disease that damages the nerve connecting the eyes to the brain, Terri doesn't just defy conventional images of blindness. She smashes them to smithereens. She's the married mom of two grade-schoolers, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Nevada and a dedicated camper who navigates the woods with a long white cane. "I can do just about anything except drive," she says. — Peg Rosen, Good Housekeeping, October 2018

Did you know?

Despite its American sound and its common use by the fiery animated cartoon character Yosemite Sam, smithereens did not originate in American slang. Although no one is entirely positive about its precise origins, scholars think that smithereens likely developed from the Irish word smidiríní, which means "little bits." That Irish word is the diminutive of smiodar, meaning "fragment." According to print evidence, the plural form smithereens first appears in English in the late 18th century; use of singular smithereen then follows.

Mar 17, 2019

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

encroach • \in-KROHCH\  • verb

1 : to enter by gradual steps or by stealth into the possessions or rights of another

2 : to advance beyond the usual or proper limits


"The house had been abandoned for years, with peeling stucco, a half-buried swimming pool, the jungle encroaching on every side." — Paula McLain, Town & Country, August 2018

"As algorithms are viewed as encroaching more and more on our everyday lives, and, importantly, the privacy of those lives, there is an increased clamour to make them available and accessible for scrutiny." — James Kitching, Computing, 2 Jan. 2019

Did you know?

The history behind encroach is likely to hook you in. The word derives from the Middle English encrochen, which means "to get or seize." The Anglo-French predecessor of encrochen is encrocher, which was formed by combining the prefix en- ("in") with the noun croche ("hook"). Croche also gave us our word crochet, in reference to the hooked needle used in that craft. Encroach carries the meaning of "intrude," both in terms of privilege or property. The word can also hop over legal barriers to describe a general advancement beyond desirable or normal limits (such as a hurricane that encroaches on the mainland).

Mar 16, 2019

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

two-bit • \TOO-BIT\  • adjective

1 : cheap or trivial of its kind : petty, small-time

2 : of the value of two bits


"In 1956, he published Allen Ginsberg's Howl and Other Poems at City Lights Books, which was then, [Lawrence] Ferlinghetti says, both a one-room bookshop and a 'two-bit poetry press' in San Francisco." — Ira Silverberg, The Document Journal, December 10, 2018

"Bright lights shining through the foggy 1950s London air is the memorable backdrop of Jules Dassin's story of a two-bit American hustler, Harry Fabian, doing everything he can to stay ahead of his arrears and the doomed end pursuing him." — Kevin P. Sullivan, Vulture, 22 Jan. 2019

Did you know?

The money-related definition of two-bit makes its etymology obvious: it is derived from the noun phrase two bits. However, two bits is an interesting phrase because it actually means "the value of a quarter of a dollar." There is no such thing as a single bit, at least not anymore. The now-obsolete Spanish dollar (also known as a peso or piece of eight) was composed of eight reales, or eight bits, so a quarter of the dollar equaled two bits. The phrase two bits carried over into U.S. usage. It first appeared in print in English in the early 1700s (and later developed the figurative sense of "something of small worth or importance"), and was followed by its adjectival relative sometime around the beginning of the 19th century. These days, the adjective has far surpassed the noun in popularity.

Mar 15, 2019

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

animadversion • \an-uh-mad-VER-zhun\  • noun

1 : a critical and usually censorious remark — often used with on

2 : adverse criticism


"Some of his contemporaries and erstwhile friends, meanwhile, displayed considerable frankness in what they wrote. They did not count on Hemingway reading their animadversions on his character and talents while sitting in a café in Venice." — Norman Birnbaum, The Nation, 19 Dec. 2011

"If any grudge-bearing customer is equipped to voice his uncalled-for animadversions, why should restaurants not seize the opportunity to speak for themselves—to articulate the counterpoint or impress upon would-be diners a voice of their own? Instagram has emerged as the go-to platform for restauranteurs, unsurprisingly: there's no better way to sell food than with alluring photographs of the dishes you're selling." — Calum Marsh, The National Post, 4 Aug. 2016

Did you know?

Animadversion comes ultimately from the Latin phrase animum advertere, meaning "to turn the mind to." The first part, anima, comes from the Latin word for "mind" or "soul" and gives us animal and animate. It is easy to see how we also get adverse and adversary from advertere, especially when we remember that "to turn to" easily becomes "to turn against." Other English words descended from advertere include advert, meaning "to turn the attention (to)" or "to make reference (to)," and advertise.

Mar 14, 2019

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

zero-sum • \ZEER-oh-SUM\  • adjective

: of, relating to, or being a situation (such as a game or relationship) in which a gain for one side entails a corresponding loss for the other side


"Among the greatest risks posed by a new recession is that governments may engage in a zero-sum war for spending. Unable to overcome the technical and political hurdles to creating more money at home, they might opt to suck in money from abroad." — The Economist, 13 Oct. 2018

"The industry conflict is too often framed as physical retail versus online retail. Statistical analyses of the growth of e-commerce almost always get coupled with a story surrounding the decline of physical retail, with a heavy focus on the closure of malls. These two things are undoubtedly linked, but experts often communicate this as a zero-sum game. This ignores a fundamental human truth: People now and into the future will continue to leave the house and shop in physical retail." — Warwick Heathwood, Adweek, 18 Apr. 2018

Did you know?

Does game theory sound like fun? It can be—if you are a mathematician or economist who needs to analyze a competitive situation in which the outcome is determined by the choices of the players and chance. Game theory was introduced by mathematician John von Neumann and economist Oskar Morgenstern in their 1944 book The Theory of Games and Economic Behavior. In game theory, a zero-sum game is one, such as chess or checkers, where each player has a clear purpose that is completely opposed to that of the opponent. In economics, a situation is zero-sum if the gains of one party are exactly balanced by the losses of another and no net gain or loss is created. (Such situations are rare.)

Mar 13, 2019