Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day

By Merriam-Webster

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 Jan 29, 2021

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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Very concise and includes interesting info like etymology or historical references.


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

Episode Date

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 21, 2021 is:

touchstone • \TUTCH-stohn\  • noun

1 : a fundamental or quintessential part or feature : basis

2 : a test or criterion for determining the quality or genuineness of a thing

3 : a black siliceous stone related to flint and used to test the purity of gold and formerly silver by the streak left on the stone when rubbed by the metal


"Reviewers mocked the movie 'Love Story,' but it was among the biggest box office hits of its time and became a cultural touchstone, especially for the catchphrase 'Love means never having to say you're sorry.'" — Hillel Italie, The Associated Press, 18 Feb. 2021

"Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was an immediate success; over the 150-plus years since it has never gone out of print, remaining a touchstone of children's literature." — Eve Watling, The Independent (United Kingdom), 17 Mar. 2021

Did you know?

Since the early 16th century, touchstone has referred to a particular kind of siliceous stone (that is, stone containing silica) used to do a particular job: determine the purity of precious metals. The process involves comparing marks made by rubbing a sample of a metal of known purity to marks made by a metal of unknown purity. The method is accurate enough in the case of determining the purity of gold that it is still in use today. Figurative use extended from this literal use, with touchstone functioning as a word for a test or criterion to determine the quality of a thing, and later to refer to a fundamental or quintessential part or feature of something.

Apr 21, 2021

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 20, 2021 is:

adulate • \AJ-uh-layt\  • verb

1 a : to praise effusively and slavishly : flatter excessively : fawn upon

b : to pay homage to without exercising a critical sense of values

2 : to admire or be devoted to abjectly and excessively


A portrait of the family patriarch, a man adulated by the public but generally feared by his family, hung above the mantle.

"At his career's start, Elvis Presley was feted as a musical pioneer and adulated by millions of adoring fans captivated by his onstage charisma. But by 1968, musical tastes had changed drastically. " — Eric Marchese, The Orange County (California) Register, 11 Jan. 2018

Did you know?

Man's best friend is often thought of in admiring terms as faithful and true, but there are also people who more clearly perceive the fawning and cringing aspect of doggishness. When the Romans used the Latin verb adūlārī to mean "to fawn on," they equated it with the behavior of a dog toward its master. The noun adulation—meaning "exhibition of excessive fondness" (similar in meaning but not etymologically related to adoration)—was first to develop in English, settling into the language in the 15th century. The adjective adulatory followed in the late 16th century (an adulatory speech, for example, is an excessively flattering one), and the verb adulate was being called into service by the early 17th century.

Apr 20, 2021

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 19, 2021 is:

chlamys • \KLAM-us\  • noun

: a short oblong mantle worn by young men of ancient Greece


"Perhaps her effect on him was as despotic and intoxicating as the poets claimed. Rumors reached Rome that he had abandoned his toga for the Greek chlamys; that she reviewed his troops with a bodyguard of Praetorians; that he followed her litter humbly on foot…." — Judith Thurman, Cleopatra's Nose, 2007

"Ann Moore displays a black-and-white photo in a 1953 issue of Vogue magazine of a woman modeling an elegant silk taffeta chlamys with beading and rhinestones." — Shelia M. Poole, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 1 Sept. 2016

Did you know?

If you had been a man of ancient Greece, you'd likely have worn a chlamys from time to time. This cloak was a short, oblong mantle, typically made of dark wool, and worn draped over the left shoulder and fastened with a fibula at the right shoulder, leaving the right arm uncovered. The chlamys was popular especially among soldiers and messengers. Modern encounters with the chlamys are most likely to occur at museums where a statue of the messenger god Hermes or the Greco-Roman god Apollo might be seen garbed in such. As deities frequently on the move, these two would have appreciated the fact that the garment provided both protection from the elements and freedom of movement.

Apr 19, 2021

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 18, 2021 is:

forfend • \for-FEND\  • verb

1 a archaic : forbid

b : to ward off : prevent

2 : protect, preserve


"All too often, the selfie is looked down upon with condescension, viewed as the narcissist's calling card, treated with scorn and disdain. But why? Heaven forfend we show evidence of loving ourselves." — Rachel Thompson, Mashable, 24 Dec. 2020

"Juvenile birds left on a quest for their own feeding grounds, to avoid competition with parents and siblings. Going out on their own also forfends against inbreeding, which would have a deleterious effect on the gene pool of their species." — Gary Clark, The Houston Chronicle, 21 Sept. 2018

Did you know?

When forfend was first used in the 14th century, it meant "to forbid." The term is still used with this meaning in phrases like "heaven forfend" or "God forfend," but it bears an antiquated patina communicated in our dictionary with an "archaic" label. Other uses of the word are current, though somewhat uncommon. Forfend comes from Middle English forfenden, from for- (meaning "so as to involve prohibition, exclusion, omission, failure, neglect, or refusal") and fenden, a variant of defenden, meaning "to defend."

Apr 18, 2021

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 17, 2021 is:

purloin • \per-LOYN\  • verb

: to appropriate wrongfully and often by a breach of trust


"A comfortable career of prosperity, if it does not make people honest, at least keeps them so. An alderman coming from a turtle feast will not step out of his carriage to steal a leg of mutton; but put him to starve, and see if he will not purloin a loaf." — William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair, 1848

"White Fox, played with brisk, exemplary swagger by Hsu Feng, is a master thief employed by a corrupt landowner who wants to purloin a priceless sutra from a Buddhist monastery." — Glenn Kenny, The New York Times, 29 Oct. 2020

Did you know?

The word purloin features in the title of a famous Edgar Allan Poe story in its past tense form: "The Purloined Letter" was included in Poe's 1845 Tales, and involves the search for a letter that a cabinet minister has stolen and is now using to blackmail the rightful owner, an unnamed woman of royalty. When Poe opted for ­purloin for his story, he was employing a term in use since the 15th century with the meaning "to put away; to inappropriately take or make use of." The word had earlier use, now obsolete, with the meaning "to set aside; to render inoperative or ineffectual," a meaning that links more clearly to the word's Anglo-French origin: purluigner means "to prolong, postpone, set aside," and comes from pur-, meaning "forward," and luin, loing, meaning "at a distance." Its ultimate root is Latin longus, long, meaning "long."

Apr 17, 2021

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 16, 2021 is:

lodestone • \LOHD-stohn\  • noun

1 : magnetite possessing polarity

2 : something that strongly attracts


"… the city was a lodestone of rock-and-roll and rhythm-and-blues innovation." — John Beifuss, The Memphis (Tennessee) Commercial Appeal, 2 Nov. 2020

"[Britney] Spears … became a vessel for our intense emotions, but in the process, she would also become a lodestone for criticism of an entire generation's tastes and habits." — Craig Jenkins, Vulture, 17 Feb. 2021

Did you know?

Lodestone is made up of distinctly English components, ones that have been part of our language since before the 12th century. Lode comes from the Old English lād, which means "way, journey, course." The word stone derives from the Old English stān, which had the same meaning as the modern term stone. When the two ancient words were combined to form lodestone in the early 16th century, the new term referred to magnetite, a magnetic iron ore. Just as a new business district might be a magnet for entrepreneurs, or a poor soul a magnet for bad luck, lodestone sees similar figurative use describing things with a seeming power to attract.

Apr 16, 2021

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 15, 2021 is:

obstreperous • \ub-STREP-uh-rus\  • adjective

1 : marked by unruly or aggressive noisiness : clamorous

2 : stubbornly resistant to control : unruly


"Throughout a long career, [Lawrence Ferlinghetti] showed courage, taste and willingness to put up with sometimes obstreperous writers for the sake of literature. He first won widespread renown by publishing Allen Ginsberg's 'Howl' and defending the book in a court case in 1957 when it was declared obscene." — Benjamin Ivry, The Forward (New York), 24 Feb. 2021

"In Hollywood, [Eugene DeMarco had] gained renown as a barnstorming stunt pilot in films and commercials.... Within the small but global community of antique-aviation buffs, he continues to be held in awe, considered by many to be the most accomplished flier of dangerously obstreperous World War I airplanes." — Marc Wortman, Vanity Fair, March 2021

Did you know?

The handy Latin prefix ob-, meaning "in the way," "against," or "toward," occurs in many Latin and English words. Obstreperous comes from ob- plus strepere, a verb meaning "to make a noise," so someone who is obstreperous can be thought of as literally making noise to rebel against something, much like a protesting crowd or an unruly child. The word has been used in English since around the beginning of the 17th century. Strepere has had a limited impact on the English lexicon; in addition to obstreperous it seems only to have contributed strepitous and its synonym strepitant, which mean "characterized or accompanied by much noise"—that is, "noisy." Ob- words, on the other hand, abound, and include such terms as obnoxious, occasion, offend, omit, oppress, and oust.

Apr 15, 2021

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 14, 2021 is:

discomfit • \diss-KUM-fit\  • verb

1 : to put into a state of perplexity and embarrassment : disconcert

2 a : to frustrate the plans of : thwart

b archaic : to defeat in battle


Jacob was discomfited by the new employee's forward, probing questions.

"Upon entering the theater, the audience is immediately discomfited by the set; it is a portrait of devastation. Aaron Benson’s scenic design is a beautiful and chaotic vision of decay: two towering tenements whose brick walls are stripped down to their wooden lath, with battered plaster that doubles as projection surfaces peeking between the bricks." — Andrea Simakis, The Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 11 Mar. 2020

Did you know?

Disconcerted by discomfit and discomfort? While the two look similar and share some semantic territory, they're etymologically unrelated. Unlike discomfort, discomfit has no connection to comfort, which comes ultimately from Latin com- plus fortis, meaning "strong." Instead, discomfit was borrowed from Anglo-French in the 13th century with the meaning "to defeat in battle." Within a couple centuries, discomfit had expanded beyond the battlefield to mean "to frustrate the plans of; to thwart," a meaning that eventually softened into the "to disconcert or confuse" use we find most often today—one quite close to the uneasiness and annoyance communicated by discomfort. For a time, usage commentators were keen to keep a greater distance between discomfit and discomfort; they recommended that discomfit be limited to "to completely defeat; to rout," but they've largely given up now, and the "disconcert or confuse" meaning is fully established. There is one major difference between discomfit and discomfort, though: discomfit is used almost exclusively as a verb, while discomfort is much more commonly used as a noun than a verb.

Apr 14, 2021

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 13, 2021 is:

minatory • \MIN-uh-tor-ee\  • adjective

: having a menacing quality


"Then the squirrel seemed to notice Vinnie; to turn a minatory black eye toward him. The eye extended out from its head an inch or two on a little silvery stalk and tilted this way and that." — John Shirley, Crawlers, 2003

"In 'Wonderland,' a retired ballerina named Orla Moreau (H.G. Wells-reference alert!) and her husband, a lifelong dilettante named Shaw, move their two young kids from Manhattan to the woods of upstate New York so he can pursue his new passion for painting. An isolated old house in December, some minatory trees in the yard—what could go wrong?" — Bill O'Driscoll, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 20 Aug. 2020

Did you know?

Knowing that minatory means "threatening," can you take a guess at a related word? If you're familiar with mythology, perhaps you guessed Minotaur, the name of the bull-headed, people-eating monster of Crete. Minotaur is a good guess, but as terrifying as the monster sounds, its name isn't related to minatory. The relative we're searching for is actually menace. Minatory and menace both come from derivatives of the Latin verb minari, which means "to threaten." Minatory was borrowed directly from Late Latin minatorius. Menace came to English via Anglo-French manace, menace, which came from Latin minac-, minax, meaning "threatening."

Apr 13, 2021

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 12, 2021 is:

gallant • \GAL-unt\  • adjective

1 : showy in dress or bearing : smart

2 a : splendid, stately

b : spirited, brave

c : nobly chivalrous and often self-sacrificing

3 : courteously and elaborately attentive


"But travel-stained though he was, he was well and even richly attired, and without being overdressed looked a gallant gentleman." — Charles Dickens, Barnaby Rudge, 1841

"A gallant collection of four seniors, one junior and one freshman combined to score 268 of the Bruins' 278.5 points in their surge to second place in the team standings." — Mike Tupa, The Bartlesville (Oklahoma) Examiner-Enterprise, 27 Feb. 2021

Did you know?

Gallant exists in modern English primarily as an adjective, but it entered the language first as a noun. In the 14th century, when tales of Camelot populated the mythology of English speakers, a gallant was a young man of fashion—imagine perhaps a young and smartly dressed Arthur or Lancelot. The word had been borrowed in the forms galaunt and gallaunt from Middle French, the ultimate source being Middle French galer, a verb meaning "to squander in pleasures, have a good time, enjoy oneself." Galer also bestowed upon English the adjective gallant, which joined the language in the 15th century. A verb gallant meaning "to pay court to a lady" entered the language in the late 17th century as a derivative of the English adjective, but it is rarely encountered today.

Apr 12, 2021

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 11, 2021 is:

drub • \DRUB\  • verb

1 : to beat severely

2 : to berate critically

3 : to defeat decisively


Morale after the game was low: the hometown team had been drubbed by the worst team in the league.

"After getting drubbed by a combined 65 points, the Warriors beat two winless teams—Chicago and Detroit—and started to learn how they need to play." — Wes Goldberg, The Mercury News (San Jose, California), 1 Jan. 2021

Did you know?

Sportswriters often use drub, but the term's history reveals that it wasn't always a sporting word. When drub was first used in English, it referred to a method of punishment that involved beating the soles of a culprit's feet with a stick or cudgel. The term was apparently brought to England in the 17th century by travelers who reported observing the punitive practice in Asia. The ultimate origin of drub is uncertain, but some etymologists have speculated that it may have evolved from the Arabic word ḍaraba, meaning "to beat."

Apr 11, 2021