Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day

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

12/10/2017 12:00 AM

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 10, 2017 is:

cachinnate • \KAK-uh-nayt\  • verb

: to laugh loudly or immoderately


As the author read from her newest book, we tried to tune out the spectator cachinnating at the back of the auditorium.

"And all the way the Fates walking with him, whispering and cachinnating, ordering him to tread there, breathe here, spit there, unless he wanted to be eviscerated by destiny." — Will Self, Tough, Tough Toys for Tough, Tough Boys, 1998

Did you know?

Cachinnate has been whooping it up in English since the 19th century. The word derives from the Latin verb cachinnare, meaning "to laugh loudly," and cachinnare was probably coined in imitation of a loud laugh. As such, cachinnare is much like the Old English ceahhetan, the Old High German kachazzen, and the Greek kachazein—all words of imitative origin that essentially meant "to laugh loudly." Our words giggle and guffaw are unrelated to those (and to each other) but they too are believed to have been modeled after the sound of laughter.

12/09/2017 12:00 AM

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 9, 2017 is:

zoomorphic • \zoh-uh-MOR-fik\  • adjective

1 : having the form of an animal

2 : of, relating to, or being a deity conceived of in animal form or with animal attributes


The couple could not agree on a dining room set: one preferred a sleek, modern style, while the other liked a more elaborate one with the table and chairs ending in zoomorphic clawed feet.

"The vibrant postmodern façades of Mamani's buildings (and their imitators) contrast with the raw brick and concrete of El Alto's ramshackle architecture.… Ancient motifs, like … zoomorphic figures from mythology, are abstracted and merged with futuristic flourishes." — Judith Thurman, The New Yorker, 28 Dec. 2015

Did you know?

Zo- (or zoo-) derives from the Greek word zōion, meaning "animal," and -morph comes from the Greek morphē, meaning "form." These two forms combined to give us the adjective zoomorphic in the 19th century to describe something that resembles an animal. English includes other words that were formed from zo- or zoo-, such as zoology (made with -logy, meaning "science"). And there are also other words that were formed from -morph, such as pseudomorph, for a mineral having the outward form of another species. (The combining form pseud- or pseudo- means "false.")

12/08/2017 12:00 AM

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 8, 2017 is:

wend • \WEND\  • verb

: to direct one's course : travel, proceed


The hikers wended their way along the forest trail toward the evening's campsite.

"Meanwhile, several lawsuits involving the hotel developments that stoked the city's political divides are still wending their way through the courts." — Sheila Mullane Estrada, The Tampa Bay Times, 13 Oct. 2017

Did you know?

Wend is related to the verb wind, which means, among other things, "to follow a series of curves and turns." It is also a distant relative of the verb wander. Wend itself began its journey in Old English as wendan, which was used in various now-obsolete senses relating to turning or changing direction or position and which is akin to the Old English windan ("to twist"). Wend has twisted itself into various meanings over the years. Most of its senses—including "to come about," "to depart," "to change," and "to betake"—have since wandered off into obscurity, but its use in senses related to going or moving along a course has lent the English verb go its past tense form went (as a past tense form of wend, went has long since been superseded by wended). The current sense of wend, "to direct or to proceed," is holding steady on the path.

12/07/2017 12:00 AM

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 7, 2017 is:

maieutic • \may-YOO-tik\  • adjective

: relating to or resembling the Socratic method of eliciting new ideas from another


"The maieutic art of Socrates consists, essentially, of asking questions designed to destroy prejudices; false beliefs which are often traditional or fashionable beliefs; false answers, given in the spirit of ignorant cocksureness." — Karl Popper, Conjectures and Refutations, 1962

"Montaigne wrote as a kind of maieutic exercise, a way of drawing his thoughts into the light of day, of discovering what he wanted to say as he said it." — James Somers, The Atlantic, 21 Dec. 2010

Did you know?

Maieutic comes from maieutikos, the Greek word for "of midwifery." In one of Plato's Dialogues, Socrates applies maieutikos to his method of bringing forth new ideas by reasoning and dialogue; he thought the technique analogous to those a midwife uses in delivering a baby (Socrates' mother was a midwife). A teacher who uses maieutic methods can be thought of as an intellectual midwife who assists students in bringing forth ideas and conceptions previously latent in their minds.

12/06/2017 12:00 AM

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 6, 2017 is:

candor • \KAN-der\  • noun

1 : whiteness, brilliance

2 : freedom from prejudice or malice : fairness

3 : unreserved, honest, or sincere expression : forthrightness


"In an e-mail, Shonda Rhimes praised [Jenji] Kohan's kindness and candor, calling her one of the few showrunners with whom she can talk honestly about career strategy." — Emily Nussbaum, The New Yorker, 4 Sept. 2017

"'I pay very little attention to legal rules, statutes, constitutional provisions,' he said in a retirement interview. He deserves credit for candor, at least." — National Review, 2 Oct. 2017

Did you know?

The origins of candor shine through in its first definition. Candor traces back to the Latin verb candēre ("to shine or glow"), which in turn derives from the same ancient root that gave the Welsh language can, meaning "white," and the Sanskrit language candati, which translates to "it shines." Other descendants of candēre in English include candid, incandescent, candle, and the somewhat less common candent and candescent (both of which are synonyms of incandescent in the sense of "glowing from or as if from great heat"). There is even excandescence, an uncommon word that refers to a feverish condition brought on by anger or passion.

12/05/2017 12:00 AM

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 5, 2017 is:

encapsulate • \in-KAP-suh-layt\  • verb

1 : to enclose in or as if in a capsule

2 : to show or express in a brief way : epitomize, summarize

3 : to become enclosed in a capsule


"Just one game encapsulated everything the Patriots have done well in the red zone this year and everything they have not." — Adam Kurkjian, The Boston Herald, 15 Oct. 2017

"Like many other research groups, the Brown team set out to improve the oral uptake of drugs by encapsulating them in polymers that would stick to the mucosal lining of the stomach and intestines." — Rebecca Rawls, Chemical & Engineering News, 31 Mar. 1997

Did you know?

Encapsulate and its related noun, capsule, derive from capsula, a diminutive form of the Latin noun capsa, meaning "box." Capsa also gave us our noun case (the container kind; the legal sense has a different origin). The original sense of encapsulate, meaning "to enclose something in a capsule," first appeared in the late 19th century. Its extended meaning, "to give a summary or synopsis of something," plays on the notion of a capsule as something compact, self-contained, and often easily digestible. There is also a verb capsule, which is more or less synonymous with encapsulate.

12/04/2017 12:00 AM

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 4, 2017 is:

maudlin • \MAUD-lin\  • adjective

1 : drunk enough to be emotionally silly

2 : weakly and effusively sentimental


Rather than give his aunt a maudlin greeting card, Jake looked for one that was more in line with her snarky sense of humor.

"There are scenes of violence, grieving, hardship and heartbreak, but 'Rags' never melts into a puddle of maudlin self-pity. It maintains an optimistic attitude." — James Gill, The New Orleans Advocate, 25 Oct. 2017

Did you know?

The history of maudlin owes as much to the Bible as to the barroom. The biblical Mary Magdalene is often (though some say mistakenly) identified with the weeping sinner who washed Jesus' feet with her tears to repent for her sins. This association led to the frequent depiction of Mary Magdalene as a weeping penitent, and even the name Magdalene came to suggest teary emotion to many English speakers. It was then that maudlin, an alteration of Magdalene, appeared in the English phrase "maudlin drunk," which, as one Englishman explained in 1592, described a tearful drunken state whereby "a fellow will weepe for kindnes in the midst of his Ale and kisse you."

12/03/2017 12:00 AM

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 3, 2017 is:

pillory • \PILL-uh-ree\  • noun

1 : a wooden frame for public punishment having holes in which the head and hands can be locked

2 : a means for exposing one to public scorn or ridicule


"When I was in college in the 1980s, the general store down the road shamed deadbeats by posting their bounced checks next to the cash register. It was a pillory of sorts, a wall of shame." — Dwight Garner, Esquire, September 2017

"The really offensive thing about the bailouts was … that Congress and the White House and the Treasury and the Fed were more or less making things up as they went along. This bank got rescued, that one didn't. This firm got a bailout on generous terms, that one got the pillory." — Stephen Spruiell and Kevin D. Williamson, The National Review, 5 Apr. 2010

Did you know?

In days gone by, criminals who got caught might well have found themselves in the stocks (which held the feet or both feet and hands) or a pillory. Both of those forms of punishment—and the words that name them—have been around since the Middle Ages. We latched onto pillory from the Anglo-French pilori, which has the same meaning as our English term but the exact origins of which are uncertain. For centuries, pillory referred only to the wooden frame used to hold a ne'er-do-well, but by the early 1600s, folks had turned the word into a verb for the act of putting someone in a pillory. Within a century, they had further expanded the verb to cover any process that led to as much public humiliation as being pilloried.

12/02/2017 12:00 AM

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 2, 2017 is:

intersperse • \in-ter-SPERSS\  • verb

1 : to place something at intervals in or among

2 : to insert at intervals among other things


The author has interspersed the guidebook with illustrations of the different birds we might encounter on the safari tour.

"Interspersed throughout the beds of deliberately overgrown azaleas, roses, and hydrangeas is the world's largest private collection of sculptures…. — Harper's, 18 Apr. 2017

Did you know?

Intersperse derives from Latin interspersus, formed by combining the familiar prefix inter- ("between or among") with sparsus, the past participle of spargere, meaning "to scatter." In sparsus one finds an ancestor to our adjective sparse, as well as a relative of spark. (The relationship of spark to a word that describes something being scattered about makes sense when you think of sparks bursting or scattering off a flame.) Intersperse is often followed by the preposition with, as in "a straggling street of comfortable white and red houses, interspersed with abundant shady trees" (from H. G.  Wells' 1898 novel, The War of the Worlds).

12/01/2017 12:00 AM

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 1, 2017 is:

anachronism • \uh-NAK-ruh-niz-um\  • noun

1 : an error in chronology; especially : a chronological misplacing of persons, events, objects, or customs in regard to each other

2 : a person or a thing that is chronologically out of place; especially : one from a former age that is incongruous in the present

3 : the state or condition of being chronologically out of place


"There are the truly strange anachronisms throughout. Félicie traipses around in denim shorts, and the characters … make 'Hammer Time' jokes. And yet we know it's supposed to be the 19th century because of the proliferation of top hats and horse-drawn carriages, and because both the Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty are under construction." — Katie Walsh, The Los Angeles Times, 24 Aug. 2017

"With social media and its instantaneous but faux connection, postcards are a quaint anachronism. Part of me is hopelessly old-fashioned, so I'll revive the practice of sending 'postcards' for the next few weeks in lieu of normal columns." — Mark A. Cohen, Forbes, 9 Oct. 2017

Did you know?

An anachronism is something that is out of place in terms of time or chronology. The word derives from chronos, the Greek word for "time," and ana-, a Greek prefix meaning "up," "back," or "again." In its earliest English use, anachronism referred to an error in the dating of something (as, for example, in etymology, when a word or use is mistakenly assumed to have arisen earlier than it did). Anachronisms were sometimes distinguished from parachronisms, chronological errors in which dates are set later than is correct. But parachronism did not stand the test of time. It is now a very rare word.