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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 December 17, 2017 is:

lothario • \loh-THAIR-ee-oh\  • noun

: a man whose chief interest is seducing women


"He was now quite an elderly Lothario, reduced to the most economical sins; the prominent form of his gaiety being this of lounging at Mr. Gruby's door, embarrassing the servant-maids who came for grocery, and talking scandal with the rare passers-by." — George Eliot, Scenes of Clerical Life, 1858

"He probably even envisioned himself as a prized Lothario, never for a moment identifying with this observation by the great songwriter Kinky Friedman: 'Money can buy you a fine dog, but only love can make him wag his tail.'" — Joe Fitzgerald, The Boston Herald, 16 Oct. 2017

Did you know?

Lothario comes from The Fair Penitent (1703), a tragedy by Nicholas Rowe. In the play, Lothario is a notorious seducer, extremely attractive but a haughty and unfeeling scoundrel beneath his charming exterior. He seduces Calista, an unfaithful wife and later the fair penitent of the title. After the play was published, the character of Lothario became a stock figure in English literature. For example, Samuel Richardson modeled the character of Lovelace on Lothario in his 1748 novel Clarissa. As the character became well known, his name became progressively more generic, and lothario (often capitalized) has since been used to describe a foppish, unscrupulous rake.


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 16, 2017 is:

terpsichorean • \terp-sih-kuh-REE-un\  • adjective

: of or relating to dancing


"Cronkhite's exuberant dances look great but let the kids act like kids, and don't demand terpsichorean polish beyond the cast's abilities." — Marty Clear, The Bradenton Herald, 13 Jan. 2017

"The musical theater specialists at Signature Theatre will test their terpsichorean mettle with the toe-tappin' 'Crazy for You,' the show that clinched Susan Stroman's reputation as a gleeful and inventive choreographer...." — Nelson Pressley, The Washington Post, 8 Sept. 2017

Did you know?

In Greek and Roman mythology, Terpsichore was one of the nine muses, those graceful sister-goddesses who presided over learning and the arts. Terpsichore was the patron of dance and choral song (and later lyric poetry), and in artistic representations she is often shown dancing and holding a lyre. Her name, which earned an enduring place in English through the adjective terpsichorean, literally means "dance-enjoying," from terpsis, meaning "enjoyment," and choros, meaning "dance." Choros is also the source of choreography and chorus (in Athenian drama, choruses consisted of dancers as well as singers). The only other word we know that incorporates terpsis is terpodion, an obsolete term for a piano-like musical instrument that was invented around 1816 but never really caught on.


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 15, 2017 is:

fructify • \FRUK-tuh-fye\  • verb

1 : to bear fruit

2 : to make fruitful or productive


My parents are in a comfortable financial position, thanks to some investments that have recently begun to fructify.

"I don't care for the jokey body language and elaborate costuming of the four male bees in the Waltz of the Flowers, and yet I find myself paying close attention each time to how tightly they're woven into the musical tapestry. They're not just there to fructify the 16 female flowers, they also become part of one dance pattern after another…." — Alastair Macaulay, The New York Times, 16 Dec. 2013

Did you know?

Fructify derives from Middle English fructifien and ultimately from the Latin noun fructus, meaning "fruit." When the word was first used in English in the 14th century, it literally referred to the actions of plants that bore fruit; later it was used transitively to refer to the action of making something fruitful, such as soil. The word also expanded to encompass a figurative sense of "fruit," and it is now more frequently used to refer to the giving forth of something in profit from something else (such as dividends from an investment). Fructus also gave us the name of the sugar fructose, as well as usufruct, which refers to the legal right to enjoy the fruits or profits of something that belongs to someone else.


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 14, 2017 is:

gravamen • \gruh-VAY-mun\  • noun

: the material or significant part of a grievance or complaint


The gravamen of Walter's letter to the editor was that the newspaper frequently reported on the school system's failures but rarely covered its successes and improvements.

"In the ultimate legal absurdity, even the prosecutors trying the case occasionally are barred from seeing the evidence that provides the gravamen of their arguments." — Petra Bartosiewicz, The Contra Costa (California) Times, 6 Dec. 2009

Did you know?

Gravamen is not a word you hear every day, but it does show up occasionally in modern-day publications. It comes from the Latin verb gravare, meaning "to burden," and ultimately from the Latin adjective gravis, meaning "heavy." Fittingly, gravamen refers to the part of a grievance or complaint that gives it weight or substance. In legal contexts, gravamen is used, synonymously with gist, to refer to the grounds on which a legal action is sustainable. Gravis has given English several other weighty words, including gravity, grieve, and the adjective grave, meaning "important" or "serious."


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 13, 2017 is:

diaphanous • \dye-AF-uh-nus\  • adjective

1 : characterized by such fineness of texture as to permit seeing through

2 : characterized by extreme delicacy of form : ethereal

3 : insubstantial, vague


"For an hour and 45 minutes, Jackson wound through the various chapters of her career, directing her diaphanous voice to nearly three dozen songs…. " — Brian McCollum, The Detroit Free Press, 30 Oct. 2017

"… no element of Sienna Miller’s wardrobe—the hippy vests, the diaphanous vintage dresses, the scrunched, sun-weathered lace blouses—went undiscussed or undocumented." — Mark Holgate, Vogue, 30 Oct. 2017

Did you know?

Can you guess which of the following words come from the same Greek root as diaphanous?

A. epiphany B. fancy C. phenomenon D. sycophant E. emphasis F. phase

The Greek word phainein shows through more clearly in some of our quiz words than others, but it underlies all of them. The groundwork for diaphanous was laid when phainein (meaning "to show") was combined with dia- (meaning "through"). From that pairing came the Greek diaphanēs, parent of the Medieval Latin diaphanus, which is the direct ancestor of our English word.


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 12, 2017 is:

sustain • \suh-STAYN\  • verb

1 : to provide with nourishment

2 : keep up, prolong

3 : to support the weight of : prop; also : to carry or withstand (a weight or pressure)

4 a : to buoy up

b : suffer, undergo

5 a : to support as true, legal, or just

b : to allow or admit as valid


"It takes a village, a tribe, and a sorority to sustain one another, to flourish and to become an accomplished adult. So sisterhood means inspiring women around me, encouraging each other, crying, laughing, stumbling, and continuing on the path." — Diana Tofan, Glamour, November 2017

"So one of our main goals was how can we make the game safer, prevent the injury that I sustained and that others sustained, head and neck injuries, from happening without affecting the speed, intensity, heritage or adding any more rules to the game." — Thomas Smith, quoted on National Public Radio, 6 Jan. 2014

Did you know?

Sustain, prop, buttress, and brace all mean "to provide support for something or someone." Sustain (from Latin sus-, meaning "up," plus tenēre, meaning "to hold") may suggest constantly holding up or maintaining ("the floor sustains the weight of dozens of bookcases"). Prop often implies a tendency to fall, sink, or recede on the part of the thing being treated—and therefore, a need for strengthening or reinforcing ("propped up the damaged fence with long boards"). Buttress tends to involve strengthening, reinforcing, or stabilizing at a stress point ("buttress the economy"). Brace typically suggests supporting or strengthening so that the thing treated is made firm, unyielding, or rigid against pressure ("brace the shelf with an angle iron").


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 11, 2017 is:

orphic • \OR-fik\  • adjective

1 : (capitalized) of or relating to Orpheus or the rites or doctrines ascribed to him

2 : mystic, oracular

3 : fascinating, entrancing


"'No summer ever came back, and no two summers ever were alike,' said I, with a degree of Orphic wisdom that astonished myself." — Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Blithedale Romance, 1852

"The market skipped higher last week after some Orphic hints from the Federal Reserve Board that it may lower interest rates this summer." — Alison Grant, The Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 26 Mar. 2007

Did you know?

Orpheus was a hero of Greek mythology who was supposed to possess superhuman musical skills. With his legendary lyre, he was said to be able to make even the rocks and trees dance around. In fact, when his wife Eurydice died, he was nearly able to use his lyre to secure her return from the underworld. Later on, according to legend, he was killed at the bidding of Dionysus, and an oracle of Orpheus was established that came to rival the oracle of Apollo at Delphi. Because of the oracle of Orpheus, orphic can mean "oracular." Because of Orpheus' musical powers, orphic can also mean "entrancing."


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.


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.")


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.

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