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Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day

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Build your vocabulary with Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day! Each day a Merriam-Webster editor offers insight into a fascinating new word -- explaining its meaning, current use, and little-known details about its origin. Continue Reading >>
Build your vocabulary with Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day! Each day a Merriam-Webster editor offers insight into a fascinating new word -- explaining its meaning, current use, and little-known details about its origin. << Show Less
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carceral Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 13, 2022 is:




carceral &#x2022; \KAHR-suh-rul\ &#x2022; adjective
Carceral means "of, relating to, or suggesting a jail or prison."

// The room was eerily quiet and had a carceral aesthetic.

// Her article stressed the importance of rehabilitative measures in carceral institutions, such as career preparation and mental health support.

See the entry >



Examples:
"Coordinate care inside and outside carceral settings." — Bill Frist, Forbes, 15 June 2022



Did you know?
Carceral is a member of a small but imposing family: like its close relations incarcerate (meaning "to imprison") and incarceration (meaning "confinement in a jail or prison"), its ultimate source is the Latin word for "prison," carcer. All three words have been in use since the 16th century, and all three are more common today than they were a century ago. Carceral has always been the rarest of the group, but its use has increased significantly since the turn of the current century, most often within academic or legal contexts.
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carceral Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 13, 2022 is:




carceral &#x2022; \KAHR-suh-rul\ &#x2022; adjective
Carceral means "of, relating to, or suggesting a jail or prison."

// The room was eerily quiet and had a carceral aesthetic.

// Her article stressed the importance of rehabilitative measures in carceral institutions, such as career preparation and mental health support.

See the entry >



Examples:
"Coordinate care inside and outside carceral settings." — Bill Frist, Forbes, 15 June 2022



Did you know?
Carceral is a member of a small but imposing family: like its close relations incarcerate (meaning "to imprison") and incarceration (meaning "confinement in a jail or prison"), its ultimate source is the Latin word for "prison," carcer. All three words have been in use since the 16th century, and all three are more common today than they were a century ago. Carceral has always been the rarest of the group, but its use has increased significantly since the turn of the current century, most often within academic or legal contexts.
melancholia Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 12, 2022 is:




melancholia &#x2022; \mel-un-KOH-lee-uh\ &#x2022; noun
Melancholia refers to a feeling of sadness or depression. It is also used to refer to a sad tone or quality that one perceives in something, such as a work of art or literature.

// He confessed to a bit of melancholia after the final performance—although he was proud of the successful Broadway run, he would miss his fellow cast members dearly.

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Examples:
“His last single, 2020’s 'Finding Rest In a Weary World,' was impressive but relatively subdued, tinged with ambient melancholia even as the beat hit its stride.” — Sue Park, Pitchfork, 18 Mar. 2022



Did you know?
When is a word full of humor yet far from humorous? Melancholia traces back to Greek melan- ("black, dark") and cholē ("bile"). Medical practitioners once adhered to the system of humors—bodily fluids that included black bile, yellow bile, blood, and phlegm. An imbalance of these humors was thought to lead to disorders of the mind and body. One suffering from an excess of black bile (believed to be secreted by the kidneys or spleen) could become sullen, unsociable, and liable to depression. Today, doctors no longer ascribe physical and mental disorders to disruptions of the four humors, but the word melancholia is still used in psychiatry as a general term for despondency.
alleviate Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 11, 2022 is:




alleviate &#x2022; \uh-LEE-vee-ayt\ &#x2022; verb
Alleviate means "to make something less painful, difficult, or severe" or "to partially remove or correct."

// Mom's suggestions for ways to alleviate some of my cold symptoms included her special tea and plenty of sleep.

// The new tunnel should alleviate traffic on the bridge.

See the entry >



Examples:
"People have tried to alleviate their climate anxiety in many ways." — Antonia Mufarech, Smithsonian Magazine, 18 May 2022



Did you know?
Now for a bit of light reading. Alleviate comes from Latin levis, meaning "having little weight." (Levis also gave rise to the English adjective light, as in "not heavy.") In its early days, alleviate could mean "to cause (something) to have less weight" or "to make (something) more tolerable." The literal "make lighter" sense is no longer used, and today only the "relieve" sense remains. Incidentally, not only is alleviate a synonym of relieve, it's also a cousin; relieve comes from levare ("to raise"), which in turn comes from levis.
trivial Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 10, 2022 is:




trivial &#x2022; \TRIV-ee-ul\ &#x2022; adjective
Trivial means “of little worth or importance.”

// Although her parents dismissed her love of pop music as trivial, she relied on the inspirational messages of many songs to help her through difficult times.

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Examples:
“Urged on by co-founders Jim VandeHei and John Harris to ‘win the morning,’ Politico’s reporters and editors covered Washington high and low, devoting space in their influential email newsletters to presidential campaigns and more trivial details like birthdays of prominent local figures.” — Benjamin Mullin and Katie Robertson, The New York Times, 3 May 2022



Did you know?
When English speakers adopted the word trivial from Latin trivialis in the 16th century, they used it to mean just what its Latin ancestor meant: "found everywhere, commonplace." But the source of trivialis is about something more specific: trivium, from tri- (three) and via (way), means "crossroads; place where three roads meet." The link between the two presumably has to do with the commonplace sorts of things a person is likely to encounter at a busy crossroads. Today, the English word typically describes something barely worth mentioning. Such judgments are, of course, subjective; feel free to mention this bit of trivia to anyone and everyone who crosses your path.
riposte Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 9, 2022 is:




riposte &#x2022; \rih-POHST\ &#x2022; noun
A riposte is a clever retort or retaliatory measure. In fencing, it refers specifically to a quick return thrust immediately following a successful defensive action.

// She's known for having a brilliant riposte to nearly any insult.

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Examples:
"As a riposte to the status quo, the studio has created Pendler, a conceptual urban e-bike pitched at commuters, meticulously designed and carefully shaped to be safer, more practical, and better performing than its rivals." — Jonathan Bell, Wallpaper (wallpaper.com), 21 July 2022



Did you know?
In the sport of fencing, a riposte is a counterattack made after successfully fending off one's opponent. English speakers borrowed the name for this particular maneuver from French in the early 1700s, but the French had simply modified the Italian word risposta, which literally means "answer." Ultimately these words come from the Latin verb respondēre, meaning "to respond." It seems fitting that riposte has since come full circle to now refer to a quick and witty response performed as a form of retaliation.
crepuscular Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 8, 2022 is:




crepuscular &#x2022; \krih-PUHSS-kyuh-ler\ &#x2022; adjective
Crepuscular means "of, relating to, or resembling twilight." It is also used in zoological contexts to describe creatures that are active during twilight, or to the activities of such creatures.

// As evening came on, fireflies began to appear in the crepuscular gloaming.

See the entry >



Examples:
"Cardinals, a crepuscular species, follow their own schedule, eating an early breakfast and a stylishly late dinner. They will break that schedule on very cold days." — Jim Williams, The Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Minnesota), 16 Feb. 2022



Did you know?
The early Romans had two words for the twilight. Crepusculum was favored by Roman writers for the half-light of evening, just after the sun sets; diluculum was reserved for morning twilight, just before the sun rises—it is related to lucidus, meaning "bright." We didn't embrace either of these Latin nouns as substitutes for our word twilight, but we did form the adjective crepuscular in the 17th century. The word's zoological sense, relating to animals that are most active at twilight, developed in the 19th century.
eminently Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 7, 2022 is:




eminently &#x2022; \EM-uh-nunt-lee\ &#x2022; adverb
Eminently is used as a synonym of very and means “to a high degree.”

// All three outfielders are eminently capable of making an All-Star-caliber catch to help their team.

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Examples:
“As far as tequila goes, blancos are by far my favorite. And not without good reason: They're eminently drinkable—whether in cocktails, on the rocks, or neat.” — Karla Alindahao, Forbes, 2 May 2022



Did you know?
When British physician Tobias Venner wrote in 1620 of houses "somewhat eminently situated," he meant that the houses were literally located in a high place. That use has since slipped into obsolescence, as has the word's use to mean "conspicuously"—a sense that reflects its Latin root, ēminēre, which means "to stick out" or “protrude.” The figurative sense of “notably” or “very” that is prominent today was likely a new development when Venner was writing.
adjudicate Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 6, 2022 is:




adjudicate &#x2022; \uh-JOO-dih-kayt\ &#x2022; verb
To adjudicate a dispute between parties is to make an official decision about which party is right. Adjudicate is also used to mean "to act as judge."

// The case will be adjudicated in the state courts.

// The property title cannot be transferred until a case concerning the affected rights of way is adjudicated.

See the entry >



Examples:
"The request sought to move the trial to another location or bring an outside jury to adjudicate it." — Lydia Morrell, The Milwaukee (Wisconsin) Journal Sentinel, 20 June 2022



Did you know?
Adjudicate, which is usually used to mean "to make an official decision about who is right in a dispute," is one of several terms that give testimony to the influence of jus, the Latin word for "law," on our legal language. Others include judgment, judicial, prejudice, jury, justice, injury, and perjury. What's the verdict? Latin "law" words frequently preside in English-speaking courtrooms.
heartstring Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 5, 2022 is:




heartstring &#x2022; \HAHRT-string\ &#x2022; noun
Heartstring is used, usually in the plural, to refer to someone's deepest emotions or affections.

// The movie's emotional ending really pulls at your heartstrings.

See the entry >



Examples:
"You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll be amazed at the talent on stage. These six actresses definitely know how to effortlessly make you chuckle while also tugging at your heartstrings." — Paul Lockwood, The Northwest Herald (Crystal Lake, Illinois), 22 Jun. 2022



Did you know?
Before a love song could tug at your heartstrings, the job was more likely to be accomplished by a surgeon: the word heartstring used to refer to a nerve believed to sustain the heart. You might recognize the word's second syllable in hamstring, which refers to both a group of tendons at the back of the knee and to any of three muscles at the backs of the upper legs. It's also apparent in a rare dialect term for the Achilles tendon: heel string. And in light of these terms, it's not surprising to know that string itself was at one time used independently to refer to bodily cords like tendons and ligaments.
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