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

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 30, 2016 is:

cavalier • \kav-uh-LEER\  • adjective

1 : debonair

2 : marked by or given to offhand and often disdainful dismissal of important matters


Miranda has a cavalier attitude when it comes to spending money.

"At a certain point, however, he opened up,… though under the condition that there be no recorders or notepads. For a guy who was so careful and deliberate and micro-managed everything about his career, he became surprisingly cavalier about being quoted directly—or accurately." — Gary Graff,, 21 Apr. 2016

Did you know?

According to a dictionary prepared by Thomas Blount in 1656, a cavalier was "a knight or gentleman, serving on horseback, a man of arms." That meaning is true to the history of the noun, which traces back to the Late Latin word caballarius, meaning "horseman." By around 1600, it had also come to denote "a roistering, swaggering fellow." In the 1640s, English Puritans applied it disdainfully to their adversaries, the swashbuckling Royalist followers of Charles I, who sported longish hair and swords. Although some thought those cavaliers "several sorts of Malignant Men,… ready to commit all manner of Outrage and Violence," others saw them as quite suave—which may explain why cavalier can be either complimentary or a bit insulting.


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 29, 2016 is:

ken • \KEN\  • noun

1 a : the range of vision

b : sight, view

2 : the range of perception, understanding, or knowledge


The author advised the aspiring writers in the crowd to develop an authoritative voice by sticking to subjects within their ken.

"The council appeared to be moving toward putting more money into the concession area so that it could be used to serve more than hot dogs and nachos…. But suddenly, that fell apart for reasons beyond the public's ken." — Perry White, Watertown (New York) Daily Times, 25 Mar. 2016

Did you know?

Ken appeared on the English horizon in the 16th century as a term of measurement of the distance bounding the range of ordinary vision at sea—about 20 miles. British author John Lyly used that sense in 1580 when he wrote, "They are safely come within a ken of Dover." Other 16th-century writers used ken to mean "range of vision" ("Out of ken we were ere the Countesse came from the feast." — Thomas Nashe) or "sight" ("'Tis double death to drown in ken of shore." — Shakespeare). Today, however, ken rarely suggests literal sight. Rather, ken nowadays almost always implies a range of perception, understanding, or knowledge.


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 28, 2016 is:

foozle • \FOO-zul\  • verb

: to manage or play awkwardly : bungle


After the receiver foozled the catch, the kicking team recovered the ball at the opponent's 10-yard line.

"He foozled a short putt on the 72nd green at Southern Hills in Tulsa that would've won him the 2001 Open, then played solidly in a Monday playoff and defeated Mark Brooks for the title." — Gary Van Sickle,, 30 July 2015

Did you know?

Foozle dates only to the late 19th century, but its origins are obscure. The German dialect verb fuseln ("to work carelessly") could figure in its history, but that speculation has never been proven. Not particularly common today, foozle still holds a special place in the hearts, minds, and vocabularies of many golfers. In golf, to foozle a shot is to bungle it and a foozle is a bungled shot. In a Century magazine piece from 1899 called "Two Players and their Play," Beatrice Hanscom reveals more of golf's specialized vocabulary:

She tops her ball; then divots fly; / In bunkers long she stays; / She foozles all along the course / In most astounding ways: / In sooth, it is an eery thing / The way Priscilla plays.


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 27, 2016 is:

aureate • \OR-ee-ut\  • adjective

1 : of a golden color or brilliance

2 : marked by grandiloquent and rhetorical style


The poems display the writer's mastery of both colloquial and aureate diction.

"… the sunlight burned upon his medal, giving him an aureate, convincing—but false—appearance." — David Ebershoff, Pasadena, 2003

Did you know?

Aureate is among several adjectives in English pertaining to gold that derive from the Latin name for the metal, aurum. While its relatives auriferous and auric are more likely to appear in scientific contexts to describe substances containing or made from gold (or Au, to use its chemical symbol), aureate has tended to have a more literary allure since it was first used in English in the early 15th century. Over time, the word's use was extended from "golden" to "resplendent," and it finally lost some of its luster as it came to mean "grandiloquent."


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 26, 2016 is:

milquetoast • \MILK-tohst\  • noun

: a timid, meek, or unassertive person


Brian was such a milquetoast that he agreed to work extra hours on Sunday even though he had already told his boss that he needed that day off.

"Aristotle said that virtue is the mean between the extremes of deficiency and excess. When someone steals your parking spot, you're virtuous if you're neither a milquetoast nor a madman, but something in between...." — Ruth Chang, The San Francisco Chronicle, 22 Nov. 2015

Did you know?

Caspar Milquetoast was a comic strip character created in 1924 by the American cartoonist Harold T. Webster. The strip, called "The Timid Soul," ran every Sunday in the New York Herald Tribune for many years. Webster, who claimed that Milquetoast was a self-portrait, summed up the character as "the man who speaks softly and gets hit with a big stick." The earliest examples for Milquetoast used as a generic synonym for "timid person" date from the mid-1930s. Caspar's last name might remind you of "milk toast," a bland concoction of buttered toast served in a dish of warm milk.


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 25, 2016 is:

jeopardize • \JEP-er-dyze\  • verb

: to expose to danger or risk : imperil


Jerry was warned that a continued decrease in his sales performance could jeopardize his chances for a promotion.

"The bill grew out of a problem that has developed in north central Connecticut, where cracking foundations have jeopardized the stability of more than 150 homes, according to homeowners who have filed complaints with state officials." — Kathleen McWilliams, The Hartford (Connecticut) Courant, 8 Apr. 2016

Did you know?

It may be hard to believe that jeopardize was once controversial, but in 1870 a grammarian called it "a foolish and intolerable word," a view shared by many 19th-century critics. The preferred word was jeopard, which first appeared in print in the 14th century. (The upstart jeopardize turned up in 1582.) In 1828, Noah Webster himself declared jeopardize to be "a modern word, used by respectable writers in America, but synonymous with 'jeopard,' and therefore useless." Unfortunately for the champions of jeopard, jeopardize is now much more popular.


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 24, 2016 is:

stolid • \STAH-lid\  • adjective

: having or expressing little or no sensibility : unemotional


The stolid detective spoke to the witness in a precise, unequivocal manner.

"A modest woman of great heart and spirit, Deirdre, perhaps more than any other member of the family, has weathered the storms she and her husband have endured with a stolid equanimity…." — Charles Isherwood, The New York Times, 19 Feb. 2016

Did you know?

Stolid derives from stolidus, a word that means "dull" or "stupid" in Latin. It is also distantly related to the word stultify, meaning "to cause to appear or be stupid, foolish, or absurdly illogical." The earliest examples of usage for stolid, dating back to the early 17th century, indicate that it too was originally associated with a lack of smarts; it was used to describe people who were considered dull or stupid because they didn't wear their emotions on their sleeves. By the 1800s, however, stolid was frequently appearing without the connotation of foolishness, and it continues to be free of such overtones today.


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 23, 2016 is:

litotes • \LYE-tuh-teez\  • noun

: understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by the negative of the contrary


"Vacationing in the Caribbean wasn't a total drag," said Sheila with her characteristic flair for litotes.

"Analysts and experts reached for metaphors, similes, allusions, litotes and anything else lying about to express their wonderment." — Wesley Pruden, The Washington Times, 31 Oct. 2003

Did you know?

Even if you've never heard the word litotes, chances are you've encountered this figure of speech. If you've ever approved of a job well done by exclaiming "Not bad!" or told someone that you are "not unhappy" when you are ecstatic, you've even used it yourself. In fact, you might say that it would be "no mean feat" to avoid this common feature of our language! And litotes isn't only common; it's also simple—etymologically speaking, that is. Litotes evolved from a Greek word meaning "simple," and perhaps ultimately from another Greek word meaning "linen cloth."


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 22, 2016 is:

ideate • \EYE-dee-ayt\  • verb

1 : to form an idea or conception of (something)

2 : to form an idea


Jocelyn used the lunch hour at the education seminar to talk with other teachers and ideate new activities to use in the classroom.

"Most of us don't dedicate any time to thinking and ideating. To think well, you need to be willing to fail well." — Andy Lark, Fortune, 7 Mar. 2016

Did you know?

Like idea and ideal, ideate comes from the Greek verb idein, which means "to see." The sight-thought connection came courtesy of Plato, the Greek philosopher who based his theory of the ideal on the concept of seeing, claiming that a true philosopher can see the essential nature of things and can recognize their ideal form or state. Early uses of idea, ideal, and ideate in English were associated with Platonic philosophy; idea meant "an archetype" or "a standard of perfection," ideal meant "existing as an archetype," and ideate referred to forming Platonic ideas. But though ideate is tied to ancient philosophy, the word itself is a modern concoction, relatively speaking. It first appeared in English only about 400 years ago.


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 21, 2016 is:

zeroth • \ZEE-rohth\  • adjective

: being numbered zero in a series; also : of, relating to, or being a zero


"Many tall buildings lack a 13th floor, skipping from 12 to 14 to avoid that dreaded number. Most buildings—at least in the U.S.A.—also lack a zeroth floor." — Pat Murphy and Paul Doherty, Fantasy & Science Fiction, March 2005

"… I teach creative writing, and I expect I've confused a great many students with my 'tear up your synopsis' approach. My excuse is that I didn't start out as a literary type: in my zeroth life I was a physicist, and I've always felt some sympathy for Bertrand Russell's advice: 'Say everything in the smallest number of words in which it can be said clearly.'" — Andrew Crumey, Time Out, 27 Mar. 2008

Did you know?

You don't have to be a rocket scientist to use zeroth, but the word, which was coined by physicists 120 years ago, does often show up in scientific contexts. (It comes from zero, which is itself from Arabic ṣifr.) These days zeroth is frequently used to suggest a level of importance that is even higher than first. Renowned Soviet physicist Lev Landau used zeroth this way when he classified all the famous physicists according to the relative value of their contributions to science. He put Niels Bohr and Max Planck, for example, right up there in the first class, and lesser-rated physicists in the second through fifth classes. Where did he think Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton belonged? They were unmatched, he felt, so they went in his zeroth class.

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