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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 February 11, 2016 is:

incumbent • \in-KUM-bunt\  • noun

1 : the holder of an office or ecclesiastical benefice

2 : one that occupies a particular position or place


The two-term incumbent has already raised almost a million dollars for the upcoming congressional race.

"In recent weeks, the candidates hoping to succeed Obama have backed into an honest debate about what American power can and can't do. On Tuesday, the incumbent himself joined in, explicitly defending his own restrained approach." — Dante Ramos, The Boston Globe, 14 Jan. 2016

Did you know?

When incumbent was first used in English in the 15th century, it referred to someone who occupied a benefice—a paid position in a church. This was often a lifetime appointment; the person could only be forced to leave the office in the case of certain specific legal conflicts. In the mid-17th century, incumbent came to refer to anyone holding any office, including elected positions. These days, in the American political system, incumbent generally refers to someone who is the current holder of a position during an election to fill that position. Incumbent came to English through Anglo-French and derives from the Latin incumbere, meaning "to lie down on."


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 10, 2016 is:

gruntle • \GRUN-tul\  • verb

: to put in a good humor


The hour-long wait at the restaurant irked us, but once we were seated, we were soon gruntled by an amiable waiter.

"I returned to my interrupted slumber in a mood far from gruntled. It was an injury to my amour propre to realize that in the Whitcomb affair I had been a small cog on a large wheel." — Lawrence Sanders, McNally's Trial, 1995

Did you know?

The verb disgruntle, which has been around since 1682, means "to make ill-humored or discontented." The prefix dis- often means "to do the opposite of," so people might naturally assume that if there is a disgruntle, there must have first been a gruntle with exactly the opposite meaning. But dis- doesn't always work that way; in some rare cases it functions instead as an intensifier. Disgruntle developed from this intensifying sense of dis- plus gruntle, an old word (now used only in British dialect) meaning "to grumble." In the 1920s, a writer humorously used gruntle to mean "to make happy"—in other words, as an antonym of disgruntle. The use caught on. At first gruntle was used only in humorous ways, but people eventually began to use it seriously as well.


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 9, 2016 is:

jocund • \JAH-kund\  • adjective

: marked by or suggestive of high spirits and lively mirthfulness


Clayton gave a jocund shout when he entered the room and saw the many friends who had come for his surprise 50th birthday celebration.

"The jocund nature of Beethoven's Second Symphony is in utter contradiction with Beethoven's pathetic letter expressing the despair of inevitable deafness, both written at approximately the same time." — D. S. Crafts, The Albuquerque (New Mexico) Journal, 13 Jan. 2012

Did you know?

Don't let the etymology of jocund play tricks on you. The word comes from jucundus, a Latin word meaning "agreeable" or "delightful," and ultimately from the Latin verb juvare, meaning "to help." But jucundus looks and sounds a bit like jocus, the Latin word for "joke." These two roots took a lively romp through many centuries together and along the way the lighthearted jocus influenced the spelling and meaning of jucundus, an interaction that eventually produced our Modern English word jocund in the 14th century.


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 8, 2016 is:

exonerate • \ig-ZAH-nuh-rayt\  • verb

1 : to relieve of a responsibility, obligation, or hardship

2 : to clear from accusation or blame


Dana was exonerated for the crime of taking the money after it was found that her fingerprints did not match those on the cashbox.

"… a 2015 measure approved by the Legislature will provide more opportunities for convicted people to request DNA testing of evidence that might exonerate them." — The Daily Herald (Everett, Washington), 23 Dec. 2015

Did you know?

We won't blame you if you don't know the origins of today's word. Exonerate derives via Middle English from the past participle of the Latin verb exonerare, meaning "to unburden," formed by combining the prefix ex- with onus, meaning "load" or "burden" (onus itself lives on with that meaning in English). In its earliest uses, dating from the 16th century, exonerate was used in the context of physical burdens—a ship, for example, could be exonerated of its cargo when it was unloaded. Later it was used in reference to any kind of burden, until a more specific sense developed, meaning "to relieve (someone) of blame."


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 7, 2016 is:

peccadillo • \pek-uh-DIL-oh\  • noun

: a slight offense


Mark's thank-you note to his hostess was sincere and touching; his only peccadillo was addressing her by her first name instead of "Mrs. Henderson."

"[Tanyanne] Ball seemed to have mastered the form of affable confrontation: as soon as she saw someone perpetrating a civic peccadillo, she would stride up and calmly, grinningly ask, 'Are you aware that you have just committed a violation?'" — Tobi Haslett,, 10 Nov. 2015

Did you know?

"The world loves a spice of wickedness." That observation by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow may explain why people are so willing to forgive peccadilloes as youthful foolishness or lapses of judgment. The willingness to overlook petty faults and minor offenses existed long before English speakers borrowed a modified version of the Spanish pecadillo at the end of the 16th century. Spanish speakers distinguished the pecadillo, or "little sin," from the more serious pecado, their term for a sin of magnitude. And these Spanish terms can be traced back still further, to the Latin verb peccare, meaning "to sin."


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 6, 2016 is:

rescript • \REE-skript\  • noun

1 : a written answer of a Roman emperor or of a pope to a legal inquiry or petition

2 : an official or authoritative order, decree, edict, or announcement

3 : an act or instance of rewriting


The rescript declared that the lands surrounding the new palace would henceforth belong to the royal family.

"It was noon on August 25 when Japan's Emperor finally broke the silence. His recorded voice was broadcast to the nation, reading the Imperial Rescript on the Termination of the War." — Jamie Seidel, The Daily Telegraph (Australia), 15 Aug. 2015

Did you know?

Rescript was first used in the 15th century for the written reply of a sovereign or pope to a question about some matter of law or state, and then for any type of authoritative declaration. Since the 19th century, however, it has also seen use as a synonym of rewrite. Charlotte Brontë, for one, used the word this way in her novel Villette. "I wrote [the letter] three times ... subduing the phrases at every rescript," her narrator confesses.


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 5, 2016 is:

challah • \KHAH-luh\  • noun

: egg-rich yeast-leavened bread that is usually braided or twisted before baking and is traditionally eaten by Jews on the Sabbath and holidays


My father made a blessing over the challah before it was broken and passed around the Shabbat table.

"The table was graced with the latkes and doughnuts that mark the Jewish holiday, but also featured brisket, challah and tzimmes…." — Deanna Fox, The Times-Union (Albany, New York), 31 Dec. 2015

Did you know?

When English speakers first borrowed challah from Yiddish, they couldn't quite settle on a single spelling, so the word showed up in several forms; challah, challa, hallah, and the plural forms challoth, challot, halloth, and hallot were all common enough to merit inclusion in Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged when it was released in 1961. Today, challah and the anglicized plural challahs are the variants that are usually encountered by English speakers. The initial ch of challah is frequently pronounced as a velar fricative, like the ch in the German Buch or the Scottish English loch.


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 4, 2016 is:

whilom • \WYE-lum\  • adjective

: former


I was pleased to find an interview with the whilom president of my alma mater in the local paper.

"On the eastern side settlement and agriculture have all but obliterated the whilom tallgrass prairie, so that it is hardly visible to anyone who would not seek it out on hands and knees...." — William Least Heat-Moon, The Atlantic, September 1991

Did you know?

Whilom shares an ancestor with the word while. Both trace back to the Old English word hwil, meaning "time" or "while." In Old English hwilum was an adverb meaning "at times." This use passed into Middle English (with a variety of spellings, one of which was whilom), and in the 12th century the word acquired the meaning "formerly." The adverb's usage dwindled toward the end of the 19th century, and it has since been labeled archaic. The adjective first appeared on the scene in the 15th century, with the now-obsolete meaning "deceased," and by the 19th century it was being used with the meaning "former." It's a relatively uncommon word, but it does see occasional use.


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 3, 2016 is:

reminisce • \rem-uh-NISS\  • verb

: to indulge in the process or practice of thinking or telling about past experiences


Justin met up with some of his college buddies to reminisce about old times.

"Most of us have a comfort food we eat when we are reminiscing, sad or depressed." — Marion Goldberg, The Poughkeepsie (New York) Journal, 16 Dec. 2015

Did you know?

Reminisce and its relative reminiscence come from the mind—that is to say, they come from the Latin word for "mind," which is mens. A root related to mens teamed up with the prefix re- to create the Latin verb reminisci ("to remember"), an ancestor of both words. Reminisce is one of several English verbs starting with re- that mean "to bring an image or idea from the past into the mind." Others in this group include remember, recall, remind, and recollect. Reminisce distinguishes itself from the others by implying a casual recalling of experiences long past, often with a sense of nostalgia.


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 2, 2016 is:

foliage • \FOH-lee-ij\  • noun

1 : a representation of leaves, flowers, and branches for architectural ornamentation

2 : the aggregate of leaves of one or more plants

3 : a cluster of leaves, flowers, and branches


A trip to the local conservatory was just the thing to beat my winter blues—the bright flowers against the backdrop of verdant foliage was rejuvenating.

"The builders are charging up to $100 million for apartments that offer helicopter views of lush foliage, jagged skylines, soothing rivers and angelic clouds." — Max Frankel, The New York Times, 31 Dec. 2015

Did you know?

The English language has its share of common but disputed usages. One such example is the pronunciation of foliage as FOH-lij or, even more irksome to some, FOY-lij. The first of these two pronunciations, though frequently disparaged, is consistent with the pronunciation of the -iage ending in marriage and carriage, as well the less common but widely accepted pronunciation of verbiage as VER-bij. The second of these is often more fiercely denounced, in part because of its association with the nonstandard spelling foilage. Oddly enough, foliage traces back to Middle French foille ("leaf"), which is also the source of the English word foil (as in "aluminum foil"). When adopted by Middle English speakers, foil originally meant "leaf."

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