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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 April 28, 2015 is:

portmanteau • \port-MAN-toh\  • noun
1 : a large suitcase 2 : a word or morpheme whose form and meaning are derived from a blending of two or more distinct forms

The word "ginormous" is a portmanteau of "gigantic" and "enormous."

"… the rumors that the singer [Rihanna] is now dating Leonardo DiCaprio may or may not be true, but they do give the world the portmanteau RihCaprio." — Alison Herman, Flavorwire, March 20, 2015

Did you know?
In Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass, Alice asks Humpty Dumpty to explain words from the nonsense poem "Jabberwocky" and is told that slithy is "like a portmanteau—there are two meanings packed up into one word." Although slithy hasn't caught on (it's made up of slimy and lithe, according to Humpty Dumpty), another portmanteau invented by Carroll has in fact found a place in the language: chortle (supposedly from chuckle and snort). English includes other portmanteaus, too, such as brunch (breakfast and lunch) and dramedy (drama and comedy). Following Carroll's lead, English speakers have come to call these fairly common words by the not-so-common name for a type of traveling bag with two compartments. The technical (and simpler) term for such words is blend.


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 27, 2015 is:

savvy • \SAV-ee\  • verb
: to understand

"The agency's Denver office sent Siringo, who savvied some Spanish, to Santa Fe." — Ollie Reed Jr., Albuquerque (New Mexico) Tribune, June 30, 2001

"And kudos to Stan for the sensitivity. Savvying the tension between Ted and Peggy, Stan offers a sincere, 'Buck up chief.'" — Marisa Nadolny, The Day, March 25, 2015

Did you know?
You may be familiar with the noun savvy, meaning "practical know-how" (as in "her political savvy"), and the adjective use (as in "a savvy investor"). And if you've seen any of the blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean movies, you also know that the verb is used as an informal, one-word question meaning "Do you understand?" (as in "I'm Captain Jack Sparrow. Savvy?"). But Jack Sparrow (i.e., Johnny Depp) didn't invent the term. Both the noun and the verb came into use around 1785. Savvy is based on the Portuguese term sabe, meaning "he knows," which itself is from Latin sapere, meaning "to be wise." Creole speakers interpreted the Portuguese term as sabi and began using it as one would "know." Eventually, the Creole sabi evolved into today's word.


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 26, 2015 is:

rococo • \ruh-KOH-koh\  • adjective
1 : of or relating to an artistic style especially of the 18th century characterized by fanciful curved asymmetrical forms and elaborate ornamentation 2 : excessively ornate or intricate

Among the items being auctioned off is a beautiful set of six chairs carved in a rococo style.

"Mythological creatures of all sizes embellish hundreds of temples and rococo shrines clustered around a 300-foot-tall spire covered with 20 tons of gold and topped by a 72-carat diamond." — Curtis Ellis, Boston Globe, February 22, 2015

Did you know?
In the 18th century, French artists rebelled against the ponderousness of baroque style and began to create light, delicate interior decorations, furniture, and architectural elements characterized by fanciful, curved, asymmetrical forms and elaborate ornamentation. The name of their new style, rococo, has been traced to the French rocaille, a term that evoked the ornamental use of rock and shell forms. In time, rococo was also applied to similarly ornamented and intimate styles of painting and music. But all fashions fade, and by the mid-1800s the rococo style was deemed excessively ornate and out-of-date. Now rococo is often used with mild disdain to describe the overly elaborate.


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 25, 2015 is:

lissome • \LISS-um\  • adjective
1 : easily flexed 2 : lithe, nimble

The lissome figures of the swimmers wriggled up and down the lanes of the pool.

"One pas de deux, by Vernard J. Gilmore and Sarah Daley, whose arms floated from her lissome torso like drifting silk, offered a rare glimpse of the choreography's eerie capriciousness." — Gia Kourlas, New York Times, December 8, 2014

Did you know?
Lissome (sometimes spelled lissom) is a gently altered form of its synonym, lithesome. While lissome tends to be the more popular choice these days, the two words have similar pasts. They both appeared in the second half of the 18th century, and they both trace back to the much older lithe ("supple" or "graceful"), which first appeared in English during the 14th century and comes from an Old English word meaning "gentle." Lissome can also be an adverb meaning "in a supple or nimble manner," but this use is rare.


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 24, 2015 is:

tyro • \TYE-roh\  • noun
: a beginner in learning : novice

The ranch has one riding trail for tyros and several more challenging options for experienced riders.

"The young Falcons tyro is up for the challenge after missing the first two games of the season with an ankle injury he carried through pre-season." — Sunshine Coast Daily, March 25, 2015

Did you know?
The word tyro is hardly a newcomer to Western language. It comes from the Latin tiro, which means "young soldier," "new recruit," or more generally, "novice." The word was sometimes spelled tyro as early as Medieval Latin, and can be spelled tyro or tiro in English (though tyro is the more common American spelling). Use of tyro in English has never been restricted to the original "young soldier" meaning of the Latin term. Writers in the 17th and 18th centuries wrote of tyros in various fields and occupations. Herman Melville used tyro to refer to men new to whaling and life at sea. The word is sometimes used attributively—that is, directly before another noun—as it has been since the 17th century, as in phrases like "tyro reporter" and "tyro actors."


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 23, 2015 is:

null • \NULL\  • adjective
1 : having no legal or binding force : invalid 2 : amounting to nothing : nil 3 : having no value : insignificant 4 : having no elements

The court will declare the city ordinance null if it is found to be in conflict with state law.

"Michigan voters in November rejected two ballot questions that would essentially have allowed the state Natural Resources Commission to decide the hunting of wolves. But a legislative maneuver made those votes null." — John Barnes, Kalamazoo (Michigan) Gazette, December 23, 2014

Did you know?
English borrowed null from the Anglo-French nul, meaning "not any." That word, in turn, traces to the Latin word nullus, from ne-, meaning "not," and ullus, meaning "any." We sometimes use null with the meaning "lacking meaning or value," as in "By the time I heard it, the news was null." In math, null is sometimes used to mean "containing nothing"; for example, the set of all whole numbers that are divisible by zero is the null set (that is, there are no numbers that fit that description). The phrase null and void is a term in its own right, defined as "having no validity."


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

quidnunc • \KWID-nunk\  • noun
: a person who seeks to know all the latest news or gossip : busybody

We were naturally curious when the moving van appeared in the Michaelsons' driveway, but the neighborhood quidnunc, Mrs. Dyer, had already heard that Mr. Michaelson was being transferred to a new job out of town.

"To spend time with a book in order to read scandalous revelations about real-life people is not an elevated or honourable thing to do, but it appeals to the gossip-sharing quidnunc in all of us." — John Walsh, The Independent (London), July 22, 2003

Did you know?
"What's new?" That's a question every busybody wants answered. Latin-speaking Nosey Parkers might have used some version of the expression quid nunc, literally "what now," to ask the same question. Appropriately, the earliest documented English use of quidnunc to refer to a gossiper appeared in 1709 in Sir Richard Steele's famous periodical, The Tatler. Steele is far from the only writer to ply quidnunc in his prose, however. You can also find the word among the pages of works by such writers as Washington Irving and Nathaniel Hawthorne. But don't think the term is old news—it sees some use in current publications, too.


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

omnipotent • \ahm-NIP-uh-tunt\  • adjective
: having virtually unlimited authority or influence

Small children often believe their parents to be omnipotent, capable of commanding any situation or resolving any problem they find before them.

"As test scores become the omnipotent factor in what determines an effective educator, a successful student, or the quality of a school, awe-inspired learning moments begin to pale in comparison to the urgency of bubbling in a correct answer." — Laurie Futterman, Miami Herald, March 11, 2015

Did you know?
The word omnipotent made its way into English through Anglo-French, but it ultimately derives from the Latin prefix omni-, meaning "all," and the word potens, meaning "potent." The omni- prefix has also given us similar words such as omniscient (meaning "all-knowing") and omnivorous (describing an animal that eats both plants and other animals). Although omnipotent is used in general contexts to mean "all-powerful" (as in "an omnipotent warlord"), its original applications in English referred specifically to the power held by an almighty God. The word has been used as an English adjective since the 14th century; since 1600 it has also been used as a noun referring to one who is omnipotent.


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

ailurophile • \eye-LOOR-uh-fyle\  • noun
: a cat fancier : a lover of cats

Ailurophiles, young and old, are sure to love the art museum's new exhibit featuring paintings and photographs of felines, ranging from tabbies to man-eaters.

"Yes, it's book one of a series…. And yes, the primary villain is a cat, whereas I'm an unashamed ailurophile. … But none of that mattered when I closed the back cover—I just wanted more, more, more." — Katie Ward Beim-Esche, Christian Science Monitor, December 30, 2014

Did you know?
Although the word ailurophile has only been documented in English since the early 1900s, ailurophiles have been around for thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians were perhaps history's greatest cat lovers, pampering and adorning felines, honoring them in art, even treating them as gods. But the English word ailurophile does not descend from Egyptian; rather, it comes from a combination of the Greek word ailouros, which means "cat," and the suffix -phile, meaning "lover." If Egyptian cat-loving sentiments leave you cold and you're more sympathetic to medieval Europeans who regarded cats as wicked agents of evil, you might prefer the word ailurophobe (from ailouros plus -phobe, meaning "fearing or averse to"). That's a fancy name for someone who hates or fears cats.


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

desiccate • \DESS-ih-kayt\  • verb
1 : to dry up or become dried up 2 : to preserve (a food) by drying : dehydrate 3 : to drain of emotional or intellectual vitality

Weeks of blazing heat along with a prolonged lack of rain have desiccated many of the plants in our garden.

"Since these insects desiccate easily, they will build tunnels to provide themselves the moisture they need." — Paula Weatherby, Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville), February 7, 2015

Did you know?
Raisins are desiccated grapes; they're also dehydrated grapes. And yet, a close look at the etymologies of desiccate and dehydrate raises a tangly question. In Latin siccus means "dry," whereas the Greek stem hydr- means "water." So how could it be that desiccate and dehydrate are synonyms? The answer is in the multiple identities of the prefix de-. It may look like the same prefix, but the de- in desiccate means "completely, thoroughly," as in despoil ("to spoil utterly") or denude ("to strip completely bare"). The de- in dehydrate, on the other hand, means "remove," the same as it does in defoliate ("to strip of leaves") or in deice ("to rid of ice").


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

wimple • \WIM-pul\  • verb
1 : to cover with or as if with a wimple : veil 2 : to ripple 3 : (chiefly Scottish) to follow a winding course : meander

A thick fog wimpled the shoreline so that the only thing that could be seen from the distance was the light winking from the top of the lighthouse.

"In retrospect, [The Sound of Music] may have been the first movie to introduce the concept of 'saboteur nun,' and made people think differently about the wimpled sorority." — James Lileks, National Review Online, December 9, 2013

Did you know?
Wimple is the name of the covering worn over the head and around the neck and chin by women in the late medieval period, as well as by some modern nuns. Its name is akin to Old Saxon wimpal and Middle Dutch wimpel, both of which mean "veil" or "banner." Like the word veil, wimple is also used as a verb meaning "cover" and was adopted by literary writers as a substitute for ripple and meander, especially when writing about streams. "Over the little brook which wimpled along below towered an arch," James Russell Lowell once observed.

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