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Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 31, 2020 is:
wraith \RAYTH\ noun
1 a : the exact likeness of a living person seen usually just before death as an apparition
2 : an insubstantial form or semblance : shadow
3 : a barely visible gaseous or vaporous column
"Walberswick is populated in part by refugees and retirees of London's artistic circles.... Just keep in mind that it's regarded as one of the most haunted villages in Suffolk. George Orwell reportedly saw a wraith in the church cemetery while visiting." — James Lileks, The Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Minnesota), 14 May 2020
"Noctilucent clouds have appeared after past launches of the Space Shuttle, and—more recently—after one of Elon Musk's Falcon 9 rockets was dispatched to space. And these clouds are becoming more common. A century ago, you may have had to wait years to spot one of these ghostly wraiths; now you are likely to see several over a single summer." — Nigel Henbest, The Independent (UK), 3 June 2020
Did you know?
If you see your own double, you're in trouble, at least if you believe old superstitions. The belief that a ghostly twin's appearance portends death is one common to many cultures. In German folklore, such an apparition is called a Doppelgänger (literally, "double goer"); in Scottish lore, they are wraiths. The exact origin of the word wraith is misty, however, and etymologists can only trace it back to the early 16th century—in particular to a 1513 translation of Virgil's Aeneid by Gavin Douglas (the Scotsman used wraith to name apparitions of both the dead and the living). In current English, wraith has taken on additional, less spooky, meanings; it now often suggests a shadowy—but not necessarily scary—lack of substance.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 30, 2020 is:
truculent \TRUCK-yuh-lunt\ adjective
1 : aggressively self-assertive : belligerent
2 : scathingly harsh : vitriolic
Warren's truculent demeanor made him unpleasant to work with, particularly as deadlines approached.
"We encounter the novel not as a relic, encrusted with renown and analysis, much revered and much handled, but in all its freshness and truculent refusal of fiction's tropes." — Parul Sehgal, The New York Times, 16 June 2020
Did you know?
Truculent derives from truculentus, a form of the Latin adjective trux, meaning "savage." It has been used in English since the 16th century to describe people or things that are cruel and ferocious, such as tyrannical leaders, and has also come to mean "deadly or destructive" (as in "a truculent disease"). In current use, however, it has lost much of its etymological fierceness. It now frequently serves to describe speech or writing that is notably harsh (as in "truculent criticism") or a person who is notably self-assertive and surly ("a truculent schoolboy"). Some usage commentators have criticized these extended uses because they do not match the savagery of the word's original sense, but they are well-established and perfectly standard.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 29, 2020 is:
rue \ROO\ verb
: to feel penitence, remorse, or regret for
"He rued his small feet, which turned inwards ever so slightly. When standing still, he always had to remember to turn his feet out, to avoid looking pigeon-toed." — Natasha Solomons, Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English, 2010
"Yes, I rue the day when I am not allowed to squeeze my avocados to see if they are ripe. I don't want a grocery clerk selecting my corn on the cob. And I certainly want to be able to point toward that third piece of filet mignon in the second row because it is marbled just right." — Jay Heater, The East County Observer (Bradenton, Florida), 21 May 2020
Did you know?
If you remember your high school French, or if you've ever strolled down the Rue de Rivoli in Paris, you may have the notion that the English word rue is somehow connected to the French word for "street." In actuality, the French and English words are not related at all. The English rue is originally from the Old English word hrēow, meaning "sorrow." Used as both a noun and, more frequently, a verb, rue is very old, dating back to before the 12th century.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 28, 2020 is:
Cassandra \kuh-SAN-druh\ noun
1 : a daughter of Priam endowed with the gift of prophecy but fated never to be believed
2 : one that predicts misfortune or disaster
"They have rented a huge, nearly empty 'furnished' house online and it is here that the story begins to focus. Here, in a remote location everyone's nightmares get worse. The villagers … are Cassandras, implicitly warning of impending doom." — Stephen Schaefer, The Boston Herald, 19 June 2020
"My pandemic pantry is full. I come from a long line of Cassandras, and I have a keen (some would say unhealthy) interest in virology, so I've been prepping assiduously since mid-January. I've been cooking for myself and enjoying it in self-isolation because it's something I didn't get to do much in my former life as a restaurant critic." — Alison Cook, The Houston Chronicle, 27 Mar. 2020
Did you know?
The story of Cassandra comes from Greek mythology and is both tragic and ironic, as such myths tend to be. Cassandra was the daughter of Priam, the king of Troy. She caught the eye of the god Apollo, who was accustomed to getting what he wanted. He was amazed and displeased when she refused his romantic advances, and he became vengeful. He cursed Cassandra with a gift of prophecy with an especially cruel twist: he guaranteed that while she would always be right, no one would ever believe her predictions. Cassandra foretold the fall of Troy and other disastrous happenings, though she was ignored. Now, the label Cassandra is typically reserved for those who claim to see impending doom.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 27, 2020 is:
dexterous \DEK-strus\ adjective
3 : skillful and competent with the hands
As a shortstop, Alex is a dexterous fielder who is adept at catching any ground ball or line drive hit at him.
"And every single one of those weaves is done by hand. No loom is used—only dexterous fingers, sharp eyes and Zen-like concentration." — Roff Smith, The New York Times, 22 July 2020
Did you know?
Dexterous comes from the Latin word dexter, meaning "on the right side." Since most people are right-handed, and therefore do things more easily with their right hand, dexter developed the sense of "skillful." English speakers crafted dexterous from dexter and have been using the resulting adjective for anyone who is skillful—in either a physical or mental capacity—since at least the early 1600s. The adjective ambidextrous, which combines dexter with the Latin prefix ambi-, meaning "both," describes one who is able to use both hands in an equally skillful way.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 26, 2020 is:
repine \rih-PYNE\ verb
1 : to feel or express dejection or discontent : complain
2 : to long for something
"All his journeys were ruggedly performed; for he was always steadfast in a purpose of saving money for Emily's sake, when she should be found. In all this long pursuit, I never heard him repine; I never heard him say he was fatigued, or out of heart." — Charles Dickens, David Copperfield, 1850
"For about half an hour I felt quite low in spirits because of Charley Heywood's unannounced departure, but I am not one to repine over matters that can't be helped." — Dee Brown, Conspiracy of Knaves, 1987
Did you know?
In longing, one can "repine over" something ("repining over her lost past"), or one can "pine for" something. The two words, used thus, mean close to the same thing, but not exactly. Pining refers to intense longing for what one once knew. Repine adds an element of discontent to any longing—an element carried over from its sense "to feel or express dejection or discontent," which has been in use since the 16th century. Washington Irving used the earlier sense in his 1820 work The Sketch Book: "Through the long and weary day he repines at his unhappy lot." Pine and repine are from Old English pīnian ("to suffer") and probably ultimately from Latin poena ("punishment"). Poena also gave us pain.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 25, 2020 is:
emissary \EM-uh-sair-ee\ noun
1 : one designated as the agent of another : representative
2 : a secret agent
"America has a long tradition of deploying political emissaries. They can have the authority of a direct line to the president." — The Economist, 13 Aug. 2020
"He had founded that fellowship of the Black Arrow, as a ruined man longing for vengeance and money; and yet among those who knew him best, he was thought to be the agent and emissary of the great King-maker of England, Richard, Earl of Warwick." — Robert Louis Stevenson, The Black Arrow, 1888
Did you know?
An emissary is often a person who is sent somewhere in order to act as a representative. The key in that sentence is sent; emissary derives from Latin emissus, the past participle of the verb emittere, meaning "to send out." By the early 17th century, it was a commonly seen and heard word. An earlier common emittere descendant is emit. In addition, emittere itself comes from Latin mittere ("to send"), which is an ancestor of many English words, including admit, commit, mission, omit, permit, premise, promise, and submit.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 24, 2020 is:
sophomoric \sahf-MOR-ik\ adjective
1 : conceited and overconfident of knowledge but poorly informed and immature
2 : lacking in maturity, taste, or judgment
Judd's behavior at the party was sophomoric, but I've seen a more mature side to him in other settings.
"Good cause notwithstanding, eager Brad-and-Jen fans were laser-focused on Pitt's reaction to one of Aniston's lines. 'Hi, Brad,' Aniston said to her former spouse while in character. 'You know how cute I always thought you were.' … Not to be too sophomoric, but let's admit it ... he totally blushed." — Emma Specter, Vogue, 18 Sept. 2020
Did you know?
Sophomores get a bad rap. A lot of people seem to think they're foolish (no matter what they do), when they themselves know they're pretty wise. The history of the words sophomore and sophomoric (which developed from sophomore) proves that it has always been tough to be a sophomore. Those words probably come from a combination of the Greek terms sophos (which means "wise") and mōros (which means "foolish"). But sophomores can take comfort in the fact that some very impressive words, including philosopher and sophisticated, are also related to sophos.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 23, 2020 is:
guttersnipe \GUTT-er-snype\ noun
1 : a young vagabond : an outcast boy or girl in the streets of a city
2 : a person of the lowest moral or economic station
"He had blackmailed another ten dollars out of the urchin, also forcing the waif to watch the wagon while he spent the afternoon at Loew's State watching a film about drag-racing teenagers. The guttersnipe was definitely a discovery…."— John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces, 1980
"Uneducated flower girl Eliza Doolittle, on the other hand, transforms from what Higgins calls a 'guttersnipe' into a proper lady." — Rohan Preston, The Star Tribune (Minneapolis, Minnesota), 5 Mar. 2020
Did you know?
"Unfurl yourselves under my banner, noble savages, illustrious guttersnipes," wrote Mark Twain sometime around 1869. Twain was among the first writers to use guttersnipe for a young hoodlum or street urchin. In doing so, he was following a trend among writers of the time to associate gutter (a low area at the side of a road) with a low station in life. Other writers in the late 19th century used guttersnipe more literally as a name for certain kinds of snipes, or birds with long thin beaks that live in wet areas. Gutter-bird was another term that was used for both birds and disreputable persons. And even snipe itself has a history as a term of opprobrium; it was used as such during William Shakespeare's day.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for October 22, 2020 is:
adduce \uh-DOOSS\ verb
: to offer as example, reason, or proof in discussion or analysis
"She was tranquil, yet her tranquility was evidently constrained; and as her confusion had before been adduced as a proof of her guilt, she worked up her mind to an appearance of courage." — Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, 1818
"His story proper begins in 1833, with pre-war productions of Othello, but earlier examples could easily have been adduced that would only have strengthened his case. On 3 April, 1760, for example, a newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland, advertised a production of Othello to be staged the following week…. — Sarah Churchwell, The New Statesman, 11 Mar. 2020
Did you know?
We won't lead you astray over the history of adduce; it is one of a plethora of familiar words that trace to the Latin root dūcere, which means "to lead." Perhaps we can induce you to deduce a few other dūcere offspring if we offer a few hints about them. One is a synonym of kidnap, one's a title for a British royal, and one's another word for decrease. There are your leads; here are the answers. They are abduct, duke, and reduce, respectively. There are also many others, including induce, which means "to persuade" or "to bring about."