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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 23, 2015 is:

debouch • \dih-BOUTCH\  • verb
1 : to cause to emerge : discharge 2 : to march out into open ground : emerge, issue

"A mutual foe had appeared. From a passage on the left of the road there had debouched on to the field of action Albert himself and two of his band." — P. G. Wodehouse, The White Feather, 1907

"Jeremy and I had trekked from the river bottom early that morning to a stream called Deer Creek…. Deer Creek incises a mile of spectacular narrows in the 500-million-year-old Tapeats Sandstone before it debouches into the Colorado." — Christopher Ketcham, Earth Island Journal, Spring 2015

Did you know?
Debouch emerged in English in the 18th century. It derives from a French verb formed from the prefix dé- ("from") and the noun bouche ("mouth"), which itself derives ultimately from the Latin bucca ("cheek"). (It is not to be confused with debauch, which is from the Old French verb desbauchier, meaning "to scatter, disperse.") Debouch is often used in military contexts to refer to the action of troops proceeding from a closed space to an open one. It is also used frequently to refer to the emergence of anything from a mouth, such as water passing through the mouth of a river into an ocean. The word's ancestors have also given us the adjective buccal ("of or relating to the mouth") and the noun embouchure (the mouthpiece of a musical instrument or the position of the mouth when playing one).


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 22, 2015 is:

nepotism • \NEP-uh-tiz-um\  • noun
: favoritism (as in appointment to a job) based on kinship

It was strongly believed that nepotism played a role in helping Jessica get the sales manager position at her cousin's store.

"The Times investigation found that at least 7% of county firefighters on the payroll since 2012 were the sons of current or former employees of the department.… Statistical experts consulted by The Times said the percentage of sons and other relatives on the job strongly indicated that nepotism was at play." — Paul Pringle, Los Angeles Times, April 8, 2015

Did you know?
During his papacy from 1471–1484, Sixtus IV granted many special favors to members of his family, in particular his nephews. This practice of papal favoritism was carried on by his successors, and in 1667 it was the subject of Gregorio Leti's book Il Nepotismo di Roma—titled in the English translation, The History of the Popes' Nephews. Shortly after the book's appearance, nepotism began to be used in English for the showing of special favor or unfair preference to any relative by someone in any position of power, be it ecclesiastical or not. (The "nep-" spelling is from nepote, a 17th-century variant of Italian nipote, meaning "nephew.")


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 21, 2015 is:

umpteen • \UMP-teen\  • adjective
: very many : indefinitely numerous

By midmorning, Ellie had already phoned her sister umpteen times.

"It's the home chore that everybody hates most. I see that on the TV how-to shows, read it on umpteen do-it-yourself sites. Nobody likes removing wallpaper." — Allen Norwood, Charlotte (North Carolina) Observer, January 22, 2015

Did you know?
"I'll go to bed and I'll not get up for umpty-eleven months." You know the feeling. The speaker here is war-weary Bill, a character in Patrick MacGill's early 20th-century novel The Great Push. His umpty originated as military slang around 1905 and stood for an indefinite number, generally largish. (It was probably created by analogy to actual numbers such as twenty.) Soon, there followed umpteen, blending umpty and -teen. Umpteen usually describes an indefinite and large number or amount, while the related umpteenth is used for the latest or last in an indefinitely numerous series. We only occasionally use umpty these days (and even more rarely umptieth), but you're bound to hear or read umpteen and umpteenth any number of times.


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 20, 2015 is:

quisling • \KWIZ-ling\  • noun
: one who commits treason : traitor, collaborator

"This is a country that can force you to garden, where the parish or your neighbors can twist your arm, make you delve like Adam on behalf of the common neatness…. Best-kept village competitions turn stockbroker dormitory towns into little Stalingrads, where baskets of lobelia and geranium hang from lampposts in symbolic place of deserters and quislings." — A. A. Gill, The Angry Island, 2008

"Liu's works also serve as commentary on current events. For example, a central character in the trilogy sides with the aliens in their struggle against humanity. She becomes a 'terrestrial quisling' because Maoists persecuted her during the Cultural Revolution." — Anthony Kuhn,, April 9, 2015

Did you know?
Vidkun Quisling was a Norwegian army officer who in 1933 founded Norway's fascist party. In December 1939, he met with Adolf Hitler and urged him to occupy Norway. Following the German invasion of April 1940, Quisling served as a figurehead in the puppet government set up by the German occupation forces, and his linguistic fate was sealed. Before the end of 1940, quisling was being used generically in English to refer to any traitor. Winston Churchill, George Orwell, and H. G. Wells used it in their wartime writings. Quisling lived to see his name thus immortalized, but not much longer. He was executed for treason soon after the liberation of Norway in 1945.


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 19, 2015 is:

prudent • \PROO-dunt\  • adjective
1 : marked by wisdom or judiciousness 2 : shrewd in the management of practical affairs 3 : cautious, discreet 4 : thrifty, frugal

The couple's financial advisor helped them devise a prudent investment strategy.

"As a group, they tend not to be water wasters. Wasting water costs them money in the form of pumping groundwater needlessly. Farmers are more prudent than that." — Dennis L. Taylor, The Californian (Salinas, California), April 5, 2015

Did you know?
Prudent arrived in Middle English around the 14th century and traces back, by way of Middle French, to the Latin verb providēre, meaning "to see ahead, foresee, provide (for)." One who is prudent literally has the foresight to make sound or shrewd decisions. Providēre combines pro-, meaning "before," and vidēre, meaning "to see," and it may look familiar to you; it is also the source of our words provide, provident, provision, and improvise. Vidēre also has many English offspring, including evident, supervise, video, and vision.


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 18, 2015 is:

whodunit • \hoo-DUN-it\  • noun
: a detective story or mystery story

Betsy packed several romance novels and whodunits to read at the beach.

"'Miranda Writes,' a new play that combines the elements of a screwball comedy with a whodunit, will take center stage this month at Naperville's North Central College." — Nancy Dunker, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, Illinois), April 8, 2015

Did you know?
In 1930, Donald Gordon, a book reviewer for News of Books, needed to come up with something to say about a rather unremarkable mystery novel called Half-Mast Murder. "A satisfactory whodunit," he wrote. The coinage played fast and loose with spelling and grammar, but whodunit caught on anyway. Other writers tried respelling it who-done-it, and one even insisted on using whodidit, but those sanitized versions lacked the punch of the original and have fallen by the wayside. Whodunit became so popular that by 1939 at least one language pundit had declared it "already heavily overworked" and predicted it would "soon be dumped into the taboo bin." History has proven that prophecy false, and whodunit is still going strong.


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 17, 2015 is:

terrestrial • \tuh-RESS-tree-ul\  • adjective
1 : of or relating to the earth or its inhabitants 2 : living or growing on land 3 : belonging to a class of planets that are like the earth (as in density and silicate composition)

The newly discovered fossils include some of the earliest known terrestrial arachnids.

"The InSight mission, scheduled to launch in March 2016, will record the first ever measurements of the interior of the red planet, giving scientists detail into the evolution of Mars and other terrestrial planets." — Denver Post, November 18, 2014

Did you know?
What do terriers, terrariums, and terraces have in common with terrestrial? Terra firma! All of those words derive from the Latin root terra, which means "earth." Of course, terrestrial can refer to anything on or from the Earth, and extraterrestrial describes things (or science fiction creatures) that come from space. And early usage of terrestrial, dating from the 15th century, indeed referred to creatures and other things that pertain to this world, as opposed to the heavens. By the 17th century, however, the word was also being used to describe things found strictly on land, as opposed to those found in the sea or air.


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 16, 2015 is:

hinterland • \HIN-ter-land\  • noun
1 : a region lying inland from a coast 2 a : a region remote from cities b : a region lying beyond major metropolitan or cultural centers

The enormous Greenland Ice Sheet covers most of the hinterland of the world's largest island.

"I know my country, and my fellow countrymen; the people I was meeting were simple souls, scraping a living in Yemen’s tough agricultural hinterland. Large political questions were far from their minds." — Baraa Shiban, The Guardian (London), April 6, 2015

Did you know?
When you're dealing with geography, it helps to know your hinterland from your umland. In the late 19th century, geographer George Chisholm took note of the German word Hinterland (literally, "land in back of") and applied it specifically to the region just inland from a port or coastal settlement. (Chisholm spelled the word hinderland, but English speakers eventually settled on hinterland.) Early in the 20th century, another geographer adopted the German Umland ("land around") to refer to the territory around an inland town. What hinterland and umland have in common is a reference to a region economically tied to a nearby city. But nowadays hinterland has a less technical use as well; it's used for land that's simply out in the sticks.


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 15, 2015 is:

bowdlerize • \BOHD-ler-ize\  • verb
1 : to expurgate by omitting or modifying parts considered vulgar 2 : to modify by abridging, simplifying, or distorting in style or content

Years later, it was discovered that the publisher had bowdlerized many of the poet's letters.

"Being an iconic classic, however, hasn't protected Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from being banned, bowdlerized and bleeped. It hasn't protected the novel from being cleaned up, updated and 'improved.'" — Michiko Kakutani, New York Times, January 6, 2011

Did you know?
Few editors have achieved the notoriety of Thomas Bowdler. He was trained as a physician, but when illness prevented him from practicing medicine, he turned to warning Europeans about unsanitary conditions at French watering places. Bowdler then carried his quest for purification to literature, and in 1818 he published his Family Shakspeare [sic], a work in which he promised that "those words and expressions are omitted which cannot with propriety be read aloud in a family." The sanitized volume was popular with the public of the day, but literary critics denounced his modifications of the words of the Bard. Bowdler applied his literary eraser broadly, and within 11 years of his death in 1825, the word bowdlerize was being used to refer to expurgating books or other texts.


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 14, 2015 is:

jinni • \JEE-nee\  • noun
1 : one of a class of spirits that according to Muslim demonology inhabit the earth, assume various forms, and exercise supernatural power 2 : a magic spirit believed to take human form and serve the person who calls it : genie

"Onstage, she was electric. She was like some sort of jinni, a supernatural force of some sort." — Jon Carroll, San Francisco Chronicle, September 18, 2014

"A knockoff 'Bewitched' in which Hagman played Maj. Anthony Nelson, a bachelor astronaut more or less cohabiting with curvaceous female jinni Barbara Eden, who called him 'Master,' the series, which was risqué in a way about to become outdated, ran from 1965 to 1970…." — Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times, November 26, 2012

Did you know?
Is that jinni or jinn? Djinni or djinn? Adopted from an Arabic word for demon (usually represented in our alphabet as jinnī), this word is spelled a variety of ways in English—including genie, a spelling that comes from the same Arabic word but by way of French. All of those variant spellings are used to describe a supernatural spirit from Arabic mythology that is made of fire or air and can assume human or animal form. Mythology holds that jinn (that's the plural of jinni) love to punish humans for any harm done to them and that they are the cause of many accidents and diseases.


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 13, 2015 is:

askance • \uh-SKANSS\  • adverb
1 : with a side-glance : obliquely 2 : with disapproval or distrust : scornfully

Rebecca's children looked askance at her when she suggested they turn off their electronic devices and go play outside in the nice weather.

"Well, mandolin players tend to look askance at ukuleles, because we're often asked if that little guitar-looking thing is a ukulele. 'No, it’s a mandolin!'" — Geoff Howes, BG News (Bowling Green State University), April 5, 2015

Did you know?
Etymologists have been scratching their heads over the origin of askance for centuries. Sources from Italian and Old Norse, among other languages, have been suggested, but, today, dictionary editors look askance at all of these explanations and simply label the word "origin unknown." What we do know is that the word was first used in English in the mid-16th century with the meaning "sideways" or "with a sideways glance," and that writers over the years have used the suggestion of someone looking askance at something to express a number of feelings from disapproval and distrust to jealousy.

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