Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 27, 2017 is:
junket \JUNK-ut\ noun
1 : a dessert of sweetened flavored milk set with rennet
2 a : a festive social affair
b : trip, journey: such as (1) : a trip made by an official at public expense (2) : a promotional trip made at another's expense
The senator is under fire for going on a weeklong lavish junket.
"When I was young, … our family often made junkets after church on Sunday, to Cook's, a massive arrangement of barns and sheds near New London. Purveyors of everything from household items to car parts, it … had such buyer appeal that it seemed to be swarming with shoppers every time we stopped in." — The Litchfield (Minnesota) Independent Review, 9 Feb. 2017
Did you know?
The road junket has traveled has been a long one, with frequent stops for food along the way. Since at least the 15th century, the word has named various comestibles, ranging from curds and cream to sweet confections. By the 16th century, junket had also come to mean "banquet." Apparently, traveling must have been involved to reach some junkets because eventually the term was also applied to pleasure outings or trips (whether or not food was the focus). Today, the word usually refers either to a trip made by a government official and paid for by the public, or to a free trip by a member of the press to a place where something, such as a new movie, is being promoted.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 26, 2017 is:
upbraid \up-BRAYD\ verb
1 : to criticize severely : find fault with
2 : to reproach severely : scold vehemently
"A helpful neighbor was able to contact the owner in Dorset and upbraided her for having her house stand empty while a young couple could find no place to live." — Kitty Ferguson, Stephen Hawking: An Unfettered Mind, 2012
"There was a steady stream of customers, mostly for takeout, and the experience was marred only by a guy we took to be the proprietor upbraiding one of his employees in front of the customers. Bad form, sir." — Heidi Knapp Rinella, The Las Vegas Review-Journal, 1 Apr. 2016
Upbraid, scold, and berate all mean to reproach angrily, but with slight differences in emphasis. Scold usually implies rebuking in irritation or ill temper, either justly or unjustly. Upbraid tends to suggest censuring on definite and usually justifiable grounds, while berate implies scolding that is prolonged and even abusive. If you're looking for a more colorful term for telling someone off, try tongue-lash, bawl out, chew out, or wig—all of which are fairly close synonyms of berate. Among these synonyms, upbraid is the senior member in English, being older than the others by at least 100 years. Upbraid derives via Middle English from the Old English ūpbregdan, believed to be formed from a prefix meaning "up" and the verb bregdan, meaning "to snatch" or "to move suddenly."
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 25, 2017 is:
hummock \HUM-uk\ noun
1 : a rounded knoll or hillock
2 : a ridge of ice
3 : a fertile area in the southern United States and especially Florida that is usually higher than its surroundings and that is characterized by hardwood vegetation and deep humus-rich soil
"Ah! I have penetrated to those meadows on the morning of many a first spring day, jumping from hummock to hummock, from willow root to willow root, when the wild river valley and the woods were bathed in so pure and bright a light as would have waked the dead, if they had been slumbering in their graves, as some suppose." — Henry David Thoreau, Walden, 1854
"Relying on a surveying device … Reeder set about measuring minute elevation changes across the land, searching for subtle gradations and anomalies. He zeroed in on a hummock that looked like the earthen side of a bunker, long since overgrown with moss and foliage, and roughly 100 feet away, a telltale dip in the earth." — Matthew Shaer, Smithsonian Magazine, March 2017
Hummock first appeared in English in the mid-1500s as an alteration of hammock, another word which can be used for a small hill. This hammock is not related to the hammock we use to refer to a swinging bed made of netting or canvas. That hammock comes from the Spanish hamaca, and ultimately from Taino, a language spoken by the original inhabitants of the Greater Antilles and the Bahamas. The origins of the other hammock and the related hummock are still obscure, though we know they share an ancestor with Middle Low German hummel ("small height") and hump ("bump"). The latter of those is also a cousin of the English word hump, another word which can refer to a small hill or hummock.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 24, 2017 is:
ambiguous \am-BIG-yuh-wus\ adjective
1 a : doubtful or uncertain especially from obscurity or indistinctness
b : incapable of being explained, interpreted, or accounted for : inexplicable
2 : capable of being understood in two or more possible senses or ways
"In the app, numbers and symbols are included by default, and ambiguous characters like the digit 0 and capital O are suppressed." — Neil J. Rubenking, PCMag.com, 24 Feb. 2017
"The setting for this story is ambiguous—a girl and her mother leave one country for another to escape an unspecified conflict. The only clue given to the location is the vast ocean separating the two countries, which the refugees must travel by boat." — Anna Fitzpatrick, The Globe and Mail (Canada), 4 Mar. 2017
Ambiguous, obscure, vague, equivocal, and cryptic are used to describe writing or speech that is not clearly understandable. Ambiguous applies to language capable of more than one interpretation ("an ambiguous suggestion") and derives from the Latin verb ambigere, meaning "to be undecided." Obscure suggests a hiding or veiling of meaning through some inadequacy of expression or withholding of full knowledge ("obscure poems"). Vague, on the other hand, describes a lack of clear formulation due to inadequate conception or consideration ("a vague sense of obligation"). Equivocal is the best choice for language that creates a wrong or false impression, allowing for uncertainty or promoting mistaken interpretations ("the politician gave an equivocal answer"), and when there is a deliberate attempt to confuse, cryptic can be used ("cryptic clues about the location of the buried treasure").
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 23, 2017 is:
factoid \FAK-toyd\ noun
1 : an invented fact believed to be true because of its appearance in print
2 : a briefly stated and usually trivial fact
Printed on the back of each baseball card is a chart showing the player's statistics along with one or two interesting factoids about his career.
"Diana, the manager, took us through the intricacies of coffee roasting, providing us with interesting factoids such as that lava from the volcanoes results in excellent soil for coffee growing, and the darker the coffee bean, the less caffeine it has." — Patti Nickell, The Lexington (Kentucky) Herald Leader, 17 Feb. 2017
We can thank Norman Mailer for the word factoid; he coined the term in his 1973 book Marilyn, about Marilyn Monroe. In the book, Mailer explains that factoids are "facts which have no existence before appearing in a magazine or newspaper, creations which are not so much lies as a product to manipulate emotion in the Silent Majority." Mailer's use of the -oid suffix (which traces back to the ancient Greek word eidos, meaning "appearance" or "form") follows in the pattern of humanoid: just as a humanoid appears to be human but is not, so a factoid appears to be factual but is not. Mailer likely did not appreciate the word's evolution. As current evidence demonstrates, it now most often refers to things that decidedly are facts, just not ones we tend to pay much attention to.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 22, 2017 is:
cartographer \kahr-TAH-gruh-fer\ noun
: one that makes maps
A cartographer was brought in to create new graphical representations of the shoreline that had been reshaped by erosion.
"A multi-media interactive website that celebrates the life and times of 16th-century cartographer Martin Waldseemüller—who created the 1507 World Map … —has been unveiled by the Geography and Map Division of the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., and the Galileo Museum, Florence, Italy." — USA Today, 1 Jan. 2017
Up until the 18th century, maps were often decorated with fanciful beasts and monsters, at the expense of accurate details about places. French mapmakers of the 1700s and 1800s encouraged the use of more scientific methods in the art they called cartographie. The French word cartographie (the science of making maps), from which we get our English word cartography, was created from carte, meaning "map," and -graphie, meaning "representation by." Around the same time we adopted cartography in the mid-19th century, we also created our word for a mapmaker, cartographer.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 21, 2017 is:
bucolic \byoo-KAH-lik\ adjective
1 : of or relating to shepherds or herdsmen : pastoral
2 a : relating to or typical of rural life
b : pleasing or picturesque in natural simplicity : idyllic
"My husband, Toby, and I … live on a remote sheep farm in the Cotswold Hills.… Our house perches on the edge of a bucolic valley, its pastures divided by ancient dry-stone walls and hawthorn hedges." — Plum Sykes, Vogue, November 2016
"With acres of tree-shaded paths, outdoor cafés, a lake with rowboats, and several exhibition spaces, the city's grandest park offers a bucolic escape." — Andrew Ferren, Traveler, November 2016
We get bucolic from the Latin word bucolicus, which is ultimately from the Greek word boukolos, meaning "cowherd." When bucolic was first used in English as an adjective in the early 17th century, it meant "pastoral" in a narrow sense—that is, it referred to things related to shepherds or herdsmen and in particular to pastoral poetry. Later in the 19th century, it was applied more broadly to things rural or rustic. Bucolic has also been occasionally used as a noun meaning "a pastoral poem" or "a bucolic person."
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 20, 2017 is:
eighty-six \ay-tee-SIKS\ verb
: (slang) to refuse to serve (a customer); also : to get rid of : throw out
The bar's policy is that bartenders have both the authority and responsibility to eighty-six customers who disrupt other patrons.
"He eighty-sixed the last reform once he was safely re-elected, saying he wanted to give municipalities more time to get ready for the change." — Brian O'Neill, The Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania) Post-Gazette, 14 June 2007
If you work in a restaurant or bar, you might eighty-six (or "eliminate") a menu item when you run out of it, or you might eighty-six (or "cut off") a customer who should no longer be served. Eighty-six is still used in this specific context, but it has also entered the general language. These days, you don't have to be a worker in a restaurant or bar to eighty-six something—you just have to be someone with something to get rid of or discard. There are many popular but unsubstantiated theories about the origin of eighty-six. The explanation judged most probable by Merriam-Webster etymologists is that the word was created as a rhyming slang word for nix, which means "to veto" or "to reject."
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 19, 2017 is:
tatterdemalion \tatt-er-dih-MAIL-yun\ adjective
1 : ragged or disreputable in appearance
2 : being in a decayed state or condition : dilapidated
"ThreadBanger features episodes about making clothes and other D.I.Y. endeavors that will make you wish you could live life all over again and be a tatterdemalion steampunk kid from San Francisco." — Virginia Heffernan, The New York Times, 21 June 2009
"Layoffs in the refinery, paper mills and brewery that anchored the economy after its shipbuilding and merchant trading days ended have left many striking 19th century buildings of the compact, hilly downtown in a tatterdemalion state but have not torn its welcoming, small-town atmosphere." — Philip Hersh, The Chicago Tribune, 21 Nov. 2014
The exact origin of tatterdemalion is uncertain, but it's probably connected to either the noun tatter ("a torn scrap or shred") or the adjective tattered ("ragged" or "wearing ragged clothes"). We do know that tatterdemalion has been used in print since the 1600s. In its first documented use, it was a noun referring to a person in ragged clothing—the type of person we might also call a ragamuffin. (Ragamuffin, incidentally, predates tatterdemalion in this sense. Like tatterdemalion, it may have been formed by combining a known word, rag, with a fanciful ending.) Soon after the first appearance of tatterdemalion, it came to be used as an adjective to describe anything or anyone ragged or disreputable.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 18, 2017 is:
grimalkin \grih-MAWL-kin\ noun
: a domestic cat; especially : an old female cat
The family grimalkin, dreaming, perhaps, of mousing days long past, twitched her tail as she dozed contentedly on the windowsill.
"The security-evading feline was caught on camera … on a confectionary shelf, back in November. Now, the grumpy grimalkin has been pictured glaring down at shoppers from above a fridge full of pizzas, garlic bread and ready meals." — Hatty Collier, News Shopper, 7 Jan. 2016
In the opening scene of William Shakespeare's Macbeth, one of the three witches planning to meet with Macbeth suddenly announces, "I come, Graymalkin." The witch is responding to the summons of her familiar, or guardian spirit, which is embodied in the form of a cat. Shakespeare's graymalkin literally means "gray cat." The gray is of course the color; the malkin was a nickname for Matilda or Maud that came to be used in dialect as a general name for a cat—and sometimes a hare—and for an untidy woman as well. By the 1630s, graymalkin had been altered to the modern spelling grimalkin.