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Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day
2 minutes | Jun 20, 2021
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 20, 2021 is: progeny \PRAH-juh-nee\ noun 1 a : descendants, children b : offspring of animals or plants 2 : outcome, product 3 : a body of followers, disciples, or successors Examples: The champion thoroughbred passed on his speed, endurance, and calm temperament to his progeny, many of whom became successful racehorses themselves. "The plan … is to release millions of male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that have been genetically modified so that their female progeny can develop only if they are exposed to tetracycline, an antibiotic." — Gregory E. Kaebnick, The Miami Herald, 11 May 2021 Did you know? Progeny is the progeny of the Latin verb prōgignere, meaning "to beget." That Latin word is itself an offspring of the prefix pro-, meaning "forth," and gignere, which can mean "to beget" or "to bring forth." Gignere has produced a large family of English descendants, including benign (meaning "mild" or "harmless"), congenital (meaning "inherent"), engine, genius, germ, indigenous, ingenuous, and malign. Gignere even paired up with pro- again to produce a close relative of progeny: the noun progenitor can mean "an ancestor in the direct line," "a biologically ancestral form," or "a precursor or originator."
3 minutes | Jun 19, 2021
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 19, 2021 is: abrupt \uh-BRUPT\ adjective 1 a : characterized by or involving action or change without preparation or warning : sudden and unexpected b : rudely or unceremoniously curt c : lacking smoothness or continuity 2 : giving the impression of being cut or broken off; especially : involving a sudden steep rise or drop Examples: We were all stunned when Dennis made the abrupt decision to quit his job and move to Italy. "Federally subsidized visual art (along with plays, art centers, and concerts) flourished until 1941 when the U.S. entered World War II. The ending was abrupt, with projects shut down overnight." — David Bates, Oregon ArtsWatch, 11 Mar. 2021 Did you know? We'll break it to you gently: abrupt derives from abruptus, the past participle of the Latin verb abrumpere, meaning "to break off." Abrumpere combines the prefix ab- with rumpere, which means "to break" and which forms the basis for several other words in English that suggest a kind of breaking, such as interrupt, rupture, and bankrupt. Whether being used to describe a style of speaking that seems rudely short (as in "gave an abrupt answer"), something with a severe rise or drop ("abrupt temperature change"), or something that seems rash and unprecipitated ("made the abrupt decision to quit college"), abrupt, which first appeared in English in the 16th century, implies a kind of jarring unexpectedness that catches people off guard.
2 minutes | Jun 18, 2021
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 18, 2021 is: calumny \KAL-um-nee\ noun 1 : a misrepresentation intended to harm another's reputation 2 : the act of uttering false charges or misrepresentations maliciously calculated to harm another's reputation Examples: "[Heinrich von Kleist] sets his novella in the 14th century, when duelling was seen as a trial by battle in which the 'Judgment of God' would prevail. A murder, a wronged noblewoman, shame, calumny, castles, a melodramatic ending, Kleist's story pulls together all the key elements of the genre." — Dan Glaister, The Guardian (London), 12 May 2021 "Almost without exception I find the exchanges on this page to be polite and well-reasoned. However, recently there was a series of letters that made my blood boil. How could so many seemingly reasonable people be so wrongheaded? I am speaking, of course, of the exchange of views on Brussels sprouts. I'm sure many of you were equally taken aback. How could such a wonderful food be the object of such vile calumnies?" — Russ Parsons, The Irish Times, 6 Feb.2021 Did you know? Calumny made an appearance in these famous words from William Shakespeare's Hamlet: "If thou dost marry, I'll give thee this plague for thy dowry: be thou chaste as ice, as pure as snow, thou shalt not escape calumny. Get thee to a nunnery, go." The word had been in the English language for a while, though, before Hamlet uttered it. It first entered English in the 15th century and comes from the Middle French word calomnie of the same meaning. Calomnie, in turn, derives from the Latin word calumnia, (meaning "false accusation," "false claim," or "trickery"), which itself traces to the Latin verb calvi, meaning "to deceive."
3 minutes | Jun 17, 2021
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 17, 2021 is: harry \HAIR-ee\ verb 1 : to make a pillaging or destructive raid on : assault 2 : to force to move along by harassing 3 : to torment by or as if by constant attack Examples: Seven-year-old Kaitlyn harried her little sister with pokes, hair pulling, and teasing, badgering her until she burst into tears. "There was little puck support in either zone. The Rangers were pinned for shifts at a time and were harried into turnovers while unable to apply more than token pressure in the offensive zone." — Larry Brooks, The New York Post, 20 Apr. 2021 Did you know? Was there once a warlike man named Harry who is the source for the English verb the name mirrors? One particularly belligerent Harry does come to mind: William Shakespeare once described how "famine, sword, and fire" accompanied "the warlike Harry," England's King Henry the Fifth. But neither this king nor any of his namesakes are the source for the verb harry. Rather, harry (or a word resembling it) has been a part of English for as long as there has been anything that could be called English. It took the form hergian in Old English and harien in Middle English, passing through numerous variations before finally settling into its modern spelling. The word's Old English ancestors are related to Old High German words heriōn ("to devastate or plunder") and heri ("host, army").
2 minutes | Jun 16, 2021
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 16, 2021 is: jocund \JAH-kund\ adjective : marked by or suggestive of high spirits and lively mirthfulness Examples: "'Get drunk … on words!' proclaims this pub crawl/reading event: More than 80 writers will take over some 35 Capitol Hill and First Hill venues (mostly bars, as well as places like Elliott Bay Book Company and the Frye Art Museum) to knock back a few and present their own work to increasingly jocund crowds." — Gavin Borchert, The Seattle (Washington) Magazine, October 2019 "Clearly in a jocund mood after Tuesday's program of Nordic folk songs, the Danish String Quartet arrived at Campbell Hall on Wednesday, February 14, poised to enter fully into the music of two of their greatest national composers, Hans Abrahamsen and Carl Nielsen. — Charles Donelan, The Santa Barbara (California) Independent, 20 Feb. 2019 Did you know? Don't let the etymology of jocund play tricks on you. The word comes from jucundus, a Latin word meaning "agreeable" or "delightful," and ultimately from the Latin verb juvare, meaning "to help." But jucundus looks and sounds a bit like jocus, the Latin word for "joke." These two roots took a lively romp through many centuries together and along the way the lighthearted jocus influenced the spelling and meaning of jucundus, an interaction that eventually resulted in our modern English word jocund in the 14th century.
2 minutes | Jun 15, 2021
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 15, 2021 is: fealty \FEE-ul-tee\ noun 1 a : the fidelity of a vassal or feudal tenant to his lord b : the obligation of such fidelity 2 : intense fidelity Examples: "Ordinary English soccer fans dispatched the Super League with a populist putsch even before it had scheduled its first game. Those fans went into the streets, demonstrating loudly and insisting they would abandon teams to which they had professed lifelong fealty." — Kevin Cullen, The Boston Globe, 22 Apr. 2021 "Bathed in a laid-back marinade and wrapped in a cloak of smoke, the Niman Ranch Prime skirt steaks are cooked meticulously medium-rare, in the house style—a small miracle in itself, and one of the reasons for my fealty. — Alison Cook, The Houston Chronicle, 5 May 2021 Did you know? In The Use of Law, published posthumously in 1629, Francis Bacon wrote, "Fealty is to take an oath upon a book, that he will be a faithful Tenant to the King." That's a pretty accurate summary of the early meaning of fealty. Early forms of the term were used in Middle English around 1300, when they specifically designated the loyalty of a vassal to a lord. Eventually, the meaning of the word broadened. Fealty can be paid to a country, a principle, or a leader of any kind—though the synonyms fidelity and loyalty are more commonly used. Fealty comes from the Anglo-French word feelté, or fealté, which comes from the Latin fidelitas, meaning "fidelity." These words are ultimately derived from fides, the Latin word for "faith."
2 minutes | Jun 14, 2021
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 14, 2021 is: deride \dih-RYDE\ verb 1 : to laugh at or insult contemptuously 2 : to subject to usually bitter or contemptuous ridicule or criticism : to express a lack of respect or approval of Examples: Although derided by classmates for his cocksure insistence that he would be a millionaire by the age of 25, he achieved his goal when his Internet startup went public. "Some will see such efforts as a wise risk-mitigation strategy, as well as a way of appealing to consumers and employees. Others will deride them as a pesky box-ticking exercise." — The Economist, 6 May 2021 Did you know? Deride is a combination of the prefix de- ("make lower") and ridēre, a Latin verb meaning "to laugh." Ridēre echoes in other English words as well, some common and some obscure. In the former category we have ridicule and ridiculous. Ridicule functions as both verb ("to make fun of") and noun ("the act of making fun of"), while ridiculous describes what arouses or deserves ridicule or mockery. Obscure ridēre words include arride (it has an obsolete meaning of "to smile or laugh at," and also means "to please, gratify, or delight") and irrision, a synonym of derision, the close noun relation of deride. Also in the category of obscure ridēre words is risorius; this medical term refers to a narrow band of facial muscle fibers that reach to the corners of the mouth to make smiling possible.
2 minutes | Jun 13, 2021
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 13, 2021 is: titanic \tye-TAN-ik\ adjective : having great magnitude, force, or power : colossal Examples: "A supernova occurs when a massive star in the bright disk of the galaxy runs out of fuel at the end of its life. With no 'fire' in its belly to beat back gravity's inexorable pull, the star implodes and then rebounds in a titanic explosion that rips it apart." — Bob King, The Duluth (Minnesota) News Tribune, 30 Aug. 2020 "Even more impressive, is that in 1976-77 the band had yet to reach its commercial peak and was far from a proven arena-packing act. The tour lasted so long and was such a titanic undertaking, it was a key factor in the group taking an extended hiatus to recharge in the years following." — Kelly Dearmore, The Dallas Observer, 11 Mar. 2020 Did you know? Before becoming the name of the most famous ship in history, titanic referred to the Titans, a family of giants in Greek mythology who were believed to have once ruled the earth. They were subsequently overpowered and replaced by the younger Olympian gods under the leadership of Zeus. The size and power of the Titans is memorialized in the adjective titanic and in the noun titanium, a chemical element of exceptional strength that is used in the production of steel.
3 minutes | Jun 12, 2021
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 12, 2021 is: virtuoso \ver-choo-OH-soh\ noun 1 : one who excels in the technique of an art; especially : a highly skilled musical performer (as on the violin) 2 : an experimenter or investigator especially in the arts and sciences : savant 3 : one skilled in or having a taste for the fine arts 4 : a person who has great skill at some endeavor Examples: "Perhaps most captivating is the sheer range of strange, delicate and piercing sounds the brilliant Bjarke Mogensen draws from the accordion; who needs synthesizers when you have this virtuoso in your ensemble? — The New York Times, 6 May 2021 "But a true original style is never achieved for its own sake: a man may pay from a shilling to a guinea, according to his means, to see, hear, or read another man's act of genius; but he will not pay with his whole life and soul to become a mere virtuoso in literature, exhibiting an accomplishment which will not even make money for him, like fiddle playing." — George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, 1905 Did you know? English speakers borrowed the Italian noun virtuoso in the 1600s, but the Italian word had a former life as an adjective meaning both "virtuous" and "skilled." The first virtuosos (the English word can be pluralized as either virtuosos or, in the image of its Italian forbear, as virtuosi) were individuals of substantial knowledge and learning ("great wits," to quote one 17th-century clergyman). The word was then transferred to those skilled in the arts and to skilled musicians, specifically. In time, English speakers broadened virtuoso to apply to a person adept in any pursuit.
2 minutes | Jun 11, 2021
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 11, 2021 is: poignant \POY-nyunt\ adjective 1 a : painfully affecting the feelings : piercing b : deeply affecting : touching c : designed to make an impression : cutting 2 a : pleasurably stimulating b : being to the point : apt 3 : pungently pervasive Examples: "Across Texas and the U.S. this year, high schools and universities scrambled to find ways to give students a meaningful graduation amid the coronavirus pandemic. There have been virtual events, drive-through ceremonies in parking lots and more traditional in-person events that took several days to ensure social distancing…. Images from those atypical ceremonies provide a poignant reminder of the ways life changed as the coronavirus spread." — Jamie Stengle, The Associated Press, 27 Dec. 2020 "It's hard to pick apart a film that is as well-intentioned as Here Today, which earnestly wants to celebrate life, and every beautiful, tragic, poignant and surprising moment." — Katie Walsh, The San Diego Union-Tribune, 6 May 2021 Did you know? Poignant comes to English from French, and before that from Latin—specifically, the Latin verb pungere, meaning "to prick or sting." Several other common English words derive from pungere, including pungent, which can refer to, among other things, a sharp odor. The influence of pungere can also be seen in puncture, as well as punctual, which originally meant simply "of or relating to a point." Even compunction and expunge come from this pointedly relevant Latin word.
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