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

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 27, 2017 is:

sarcasm • \SAHR-kaz-um\  • noun

1 : a sharp and often satirical or ironic utterance designed to cut or give pain

2 a : a mode of satirical wit depending for its effect on bitter, caustic, and often ironic language that is usually directed against an individual

b : the use or language of sarcasm

Examples:

"I'm seeing more and more of my friends coming to watch the races instead of being a part of them. And then, some of the girls that are racing against me are literally half my age. It's awesome. Don't know if you can hear my sarcasm—really awesome." — Lindsey Vonn, The Associated Press, 3 Nov. 2015

"Often, users on social media tend to portray complicated social and political issues as simple and obvious, at times employing sarcasm or satire to disparage those who disagree." — James Lee, The Daily Pennsylvanian (University of Pennsylvania), 12 Feb. 2017

Did you know?

If you've ever been hurt by a remark full of cutting sarcasm, you have some insight into the origins of the word. Sarcasm can be traced back to the Greek verb sarkazein, which initially meant "to tear flesh like a dog." Sarkazein eventually developed extended senses of "to bite one's lips in rage," "to gnash one's teeth," and "to sneer." The verb led to the Greek noun sarkasmos, ("a sneering or hurtful remark"), iterations of which passed through French and Late Latin before arriving in English as sarcasm in the 17th century. Even today sarcasm is often described as sharp, cutting, or wounding, reminiscent of the original meaning of the Greek verb.



»perpend 
 

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 26, 2017 is:

perpend • \per-PEND\  • verb

1 : to reflect on carefully : ponder

2 : to be attentive : reflect

Examples:

Perpend: it is easier to build on a good first impression than it is to repair a bad one.

"Okay folks, it looks like all is not lost. Electronic Arts is at least perpending their stance heading into the next-generation of console gaming and after originally writing off Nintendo's Wii U, they've now reneged on that stance and are reconsidering the Big 'N's offerings." — William Usher, Cinema Blend, 23 Aug. 2013

Did you know?

Perpend isn't used often these days, but when it does show up it is frequently imperative, as in "Perpend the following." As such, its use can be compared to the phrases "consider this" or "mark my words." Perpend arrived in English in the 15th century from the Latin verb perpendere, which in turn comes from pendere, meaning "to weigh." Appropriately, our English word essentially means "to weigh carefully in the mind." Pendere has several descendants in English, including append, compendium, expend, and suspend. Perpend can also be a noun meaning "a brick or large stone reaching through a wall" or "a wall built of such stones," but that perpend comes from a Middle French source and is unrelated to the verb.



»unreconstructed 
 

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 25, 2017 is:

unreconstructed • \un-ree-kun-STRUK-tud\  • adjective

: not reconciled to political, economic, or social change; also : holding stubbornly to a particular belief, view, place, or style

Examples:

"When Jane Austen wrote 'Pride and Prejudice' in the early years of the 19th century, there was no heroic place for the unreconstructed nerd in the throbbing romantic novel." — Chris Jones, The Chicago Tribune, 22 Nov. 2016

"Writers of all descriptions are stampeding to buy word processors. Machines have already become so user-friendly that even the most unreconstructed of Luddites can be charmed into laying down the old sledgehammer and stroking a few keys instead." — Thomas Pynchon, The New York Times, 28 Oct. 1984

Did you know?

The reorganization and reestablishment of the seceded states in the Union after the American Civil War is referred to as the Reconstruction. The earliest known use of unreconstructed is by a writer for the Boston, Massachusetts, publication The Liberator, who in 1865 used it to describe Southerners who were not reconciled to the outcome of the War and the changes enacted during the Reconstruction. The word immediately caught on and has been used to refer to intransigent or dyed-in-the-wool partisans ever since. The word is also used outside of political and social contexts, as when a person is described as "an unreconstructed rocker" or "an unreconstructed romantic."



»nightmare 
 

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 24, 2017 is:

nightmare • \NYTE-mair\  • noun

1 : an evil spirit formerly thought to oppress people during sleep

2 : a frightening dream that usually awakens the sleeper

3 : something (such as an experience, situation, or object) having the monstrous character of a nightmare or producing a feeling of anxiety or terror

Examples:

Since starting the new medication, John routinely experiences vivid dreams when he sleeps and even suffers from frequent nightmares.

"The dream of a stress-free, short-term rental in a balmy locale can easily become a nightmare without due diligence, according to real estate agents and Long Island snowbirds." — Cara S. Trager, Newsday, 19 Feb. 2017

Did you know?

Looking at nightmare, you might guess that it is a compound formed from night and mare. If so, your guess is correct. But while the night in nightmare makes sense, the mare part is less obvious. Most English speakers know mare as a word for a female horse or similar equine animal, but the mare of nightmare is a different word, an obsolete one referring to an evil spirit that was once thought to produce feelings of suffocation in people while they slept. By the 14th century the mare was also known as nightmare, and by the late 16th century nightmare was also being applied to the feelings of distress caused by the spirit, and then to frightening or unpleasant dreams.



»watershed 
 

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 23, 2017 is:

watershed • \WAW-ter-shed\  • noun

1 a : a dividing ridge between drainage areas

b : a region or area bounded peripherally by a divide and draining ultimately to a particular watercourse or body of water

2 : a crucial dividing point, line, or factor : turning point

Examples:

"This year marked a watershed for contemporary classical music in the city. No greater proof was the Ear Taxi Festival, a Chicago-centric marathon of new music performance that, for six heady days in October, brought together some 500 local musicians to present roughly 100 recent classical works...." — John von Rhein, The Chicago Tribune, 22 Dec. 2016

"The Cienega Creek watershed contains some of the highest-quality riparian woodland, riverine and cienega wetland habitats in Arizona." — Jennifer McIntosh, The Arizona Daily Star, 29 Jan. 2017

Did you know?

Opinion on the literal geographic meaning of watershed is divided. On one side of the debate are those who think the word can only refer to a ridge of land separating rivers and streams flowing in one direction from those flowing in the opposite direction. That's the term's original meaning, one probably borrowed in the translation of the German Wasserscheide. On the other side of the argument are those who think watershed can also apply to the area through which such divided water flows. The latter sense is now far more common in America, but most Americans have apparently decided to leave the quarrel to geologists and geographers while they use the term in its figurative sense, "turning point."        



»lief 
 

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 22, 2017 is:

lief • \LEEF\  • adverb

: soon, gladly

Examples:

"I'd as lief be in the tightening coils of a boa constrictor as be held by that man," declared Miss Jezebel.

"I thank you for your company; but, good faith, I had as / lief have been myself alone." — William Shakespeare, As You Like It, 1599

Did you know?

Lief began as lēof in Old English and has since appeared in many literary classics, first as an adjective and then as an adverb. It got its big break in the epic poem Beowulf as an adjective meaning "dear" or "beloved." The adverb first appeared in the 13th century, and in 1390, it was used in John Gower's collection of love stories, Confessio Amantis. Since that time, it has graced the pages of works by William Makepeace Thackeray, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and D. H. Lawrence, among others. Today, the adjective is considered to be archaic and the adverb is used much less frequently than in days of yore. It still pops up now and then, however, in the phrases "had as lief," "would as lief," "had liefer," and "would liefer."



»ameliorate 
 

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 21, 2017 is:

ameliorate • \uh-MEE-lee-uh-rayt\  • verb

1 : to make better or more tolerable

2 : to grow better : improve

Examples:

Access to clean water would ameliorate living conditions within the village.

"There is one variable that many childhood experts agree can ameliorate the uncertainty in the lives of 'at risk' youths. A caring adult willing to take a few hours a week for a one-on-one relationship with a child or young adult can have an enormous impact on that child's life and future success." — Alice Dubenetsky, The Vermont Eagle, 18 Jan. 2017

Did you know?

Ameliorate traces back to melior, the Latin adjective meaning "better," and is a synonym of the verbs better and improve. When is it better to use ameliorate? If a situation is bad, ameliorate indicates that the conditions have been made more tolerable. Thus, one might refer to drugs that ameliorate the side effects of chemotherapy, a loss of wages ameliorated by unemployment benefits, or a harsh law ameliorated by special exceptions. Improve and better apply when something bad is being made better (as in "the weather improved" or "she bettered her lot in life"), and they should certainly be chosen over ameliorate when something good is getting better still ("he improved his successful program," "she bettered her impressive scores").



»hackle 
 

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 20, 2017 is:

hackle • \HACK-ul\  • noun

1 a : one of the long narrow feathers on the neck or back of a bird

b : the neck plumage of the domestic fowl

2 : a comb or board with long metal teeth for dressing flax, hemp, or jute

3 a : (plural) hairs (as on a dog's neck and back) that can be erected

b : (plural) temper, dander

Examples:

The rooster's colorful hackle quivered as it stretched out its neck and began to crow.

"So before you get your hackles up in response to local sales and gas proposals floated up in Helena, consider the significant benefits they could bring to our local cost of living." — The Bozeman (Montana) Daily Chronicle, 14 Feb. 2017

Did you know?

In its earliest uses in the 15th century, hackle denoted either a bird's neck plumage or an instrument used to comb out long fibers of flax, hemp, or jute. Apparently, some folks saw a resemblance between the neck feathers of domestic birds—which, on a male, become erect when the bird is defensive—and the prongs of the comb-like tool. In the 19th century, English speakers extended the word's use to both dogs and people. Like the bird's feathers, the erectile hairs on the back of a dog's neck stand up when the animal is agitated. With humans, use of the word hackles is usually figurative. When you raise someone's hackles, you make them angry or put them on the defensive.



»chaffer 
 

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 19, 2017 is:

chaffer • \CHAFF-er\  • verb

1 a : haggle, exchange, barter

b : to bargain for

2 : (British) to exchange small talk : chatter

Examples:

"And while Levy and Toriki drank absinthe and chaffered over the pearl, Huru-Huru listened and heard the stupendous price of twenty-five thousand francs agreed upon." — Jack London, "The House of Mapuhi," 1909

"Travelers who had little money to start with frequently traded a stock of wares of their own along the way—leather goods or precious stones for example—or offered their labor here and there, sometimes taking several months or even years to finally work or chaffer their way as far as Egypt." — Ross E. Dunn, The Adventures of Ibn Battuta, 1986

Did you know?

The noun chaffer was originally used to refer to commercial trading. Chaffer (also spelled chaffare, cheffare, and cheapfare over the years) dates to the 1200s and was formed as a combination of Middle English chep, meaning "trade" or "bargaining," and fare, meaning "journey." The verb chaffer appeared in the 1300s and originally meant "to trade, buy, and sell." In time, both the verb and the noun were being applied to trade that involved haggling and negotiating.



»furtive 
 

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 18, 2017 is:

furtive • \FER-tiv\  • adjective

1 a : done in a quiet and secretive way to avoid being noticed : surreptitious

b : expressive of stealth : sly

2 : obtained underhandedly

Examples:

Julia and I exchanged furtive glances across the room when Edward asked who had rearranged his CD collection.

"… I create a hidden fortress for the cake at the back of the fridge and by this I mean shove quinoa and brussels sprouts in front of it thus saving it for furtive late night snacking." — Sherry Kuehl, The Kansas City Star, 28 Dec. 2016

Did you know?

Furtive has a shadowy history. It may have slipped into English directly from the Latin furtivus or it may have covered its tracks by arriving via the French furtif. We aren't even sure how long it has been a part of the English language. The earliest known written uses of furtive are from the early 1600s, but the derived furtively appears in written form as far back as 1490, suggesting that furtive may have been lurking about for a while. However furtive got into English, its root is the Latin fur, which is related to, and may come from, the Greek phōr (both words mean "thief"). When first used in English, furtive meant "done by stealth," and later also came to mean, less commonly, "stolen." Whichever meaning you choose, the elusive ancestry is particularly fitting, since a thief must be furtive to avoid getting caught in the act.



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