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

yeasty • \YEE-stee\  • adjective

1 : of, relating to, or resembling yeast

2 a : immature, unsettled

b : marked by change

c : full of vitality

d : frivolous


"[A]ll this yeasty mingling of dimly understood facts with vague but deep impressions … had been disturbing her during the weeks of her engagement." — George Eliot, Daniel Deronda, 1876

"'O.K., I'm ready,' Ms. Boym said, addressing this reporter's microphone and letting loose a warm, yeasty laugh." — William L. Hamilton, The New York Times, 28 Nov. 2002

Did you know?

The word yeast has existed in English for as long as the language has existed. Spellings have varied over time—in Middle English it was yest and in Old English gist or giest—but the word's meaning has remained basically the same for centuries. In its first documented English uses in the 1500s, the adjective yeasty described people or things with a yellowish or frothy appearance similar to the froth that forms on the top of fermented beverages (such as beers or ales). Since then, a number of extended figurative senses of yeasty have surfaced, all of which play in some way or another on the excitable, chemical nature of fermentation, such as by connoting unsettled activity or significant change.


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

shofar • \SHOH-far\  • noun

: the horn of an animal (usually a ram) blown as a trumpet by the ancient Hebrews in battle and during religious observances and used in modern Judaism especially during Rosh Hashanah and at the end of Yom Kippur


"A collection of local artists will be selling their artwork, crafts, jewelry and Judaica, and gift booths will offer T-shirts, books and traditional Jewish and Israeli items, from mezuzahs to shofars." — Jennifer Nixon, The Arkansas (Little Rock) Democrat-Gazette, 27 Apr. 2017

"So I sat as still as possible, letting the melodic intonations of Hebrew roll through me, letting the haunting sound of the shofar fill my chest." — Robyn K. Schneider, Silent Running, 2015

Did you know?

One of the shofar's original uses was to proclaim the Jubilee year (a year of emancipation of Hebrew slaves and restoration of alienated lands to their former owners). Today, it is mainly used in synagogues during the High Holy Days. It is blown daily, except on Shabbat, during the month of Elul (the 12th month of the civil year or the 6th month of the ecclesiastical year in the Jewish calendar), and is sounded a number of times during the Rosh Hashanah services, and again at the end of the last service (known as neilah) on Yom Kippur. The custom is to sound the shofar in several series that alternate shorter notes resembling sobbing and wailing with longer unbroken blasts.


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

holus-bolus • \hoh-lus-BOH-lus\  • adverb

: all at once


If you shout your questions at me holus-bolus, instead of asking them one at a time, then I won't be able to hear any of them.

"Grasses are a conundrum. If you plant too many, you end up with a hayfield—not a great look in a garden…. Lazy landscapers shove them in holus-bolus because they will survive just about anything." — Marjorie Harris, The Globe and Mail (Toronto), 30 May 2017

Did you know?

The story of holus-bolus is not a hard one to swallow. Holus-bolus originated in English dialect in the mid-19th century and is believed to be a waggish reduplication of the word bolus. Bolus is from the Greek word bōlos, meaning "lump," and has retained that Greek meaning. In English, bolus has additionally come to mean "a large pill," "a mass of chewed food," or "a dose of a drug given intravenously." Considering this "lumpish" history, it's not hard to see how holus-bolus, a word meaning "all at once" or "all in a lump," came about.


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

glabrous • \GLAY-brus\  • adjective

: smooth; especially : having a surface without hairs or projections


Unlike the fuzzy peach, the nectarine has a glabrous skin.

"[T]o augment the body's own ability to shed heat …, Roy Kornbluh and his colleagues … are focusing on the body's glabrous, or hairless, areas. In mammals, these parts act like a car radiator, helping heat escape from the surface. In humans, the palms of the hands and soles of the feet are vital." — Hal Hodson, New Scientist, 30 Jan. 2016

Did you know?

"Before them an old man, / wearing a fringe of long white hair, bareheaded, / his glabrous skull reflecting the sun's / light…." No question about it—the bald crown of an old man's head (as described here in William Carlos Williams's poem "Sunday in the Park") is a surface without hairs. Williams's use isn't typical, though. More often glabrous appears in scientific contexts, such as the following description of wheat: "The white glumes are glabrous, with narrow acuminate beaks." And although Latin glaber, our word's source, can mean simply "bald," when glabrous refers to skin with no hair in scientific English, it usually means skin that never had hair (such as the palms of the hands).


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

amanuensis • \uh-man-yuh-WEN-sis\  • noun

: one employed to write from dictation or to copy manuscript


"He then proceeded in his investigation, dictating, as he went on, the import of the questions and answers to the amanuensis, by whom it was written down." — Sir Walter Scott, Waverley, 1814

"In this version of the myth, Holmes is a real-world character whose exploits were rendered in print by his sidekick and amanuensis Dr. Watson, who's long since dead." — Marc Mohan, The Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 17 July 2015

Did you know?

In Latin, the phrase servus a manu translates loosely as "slave with secretarial duties." (The noun manu, meaning "hand," gave us words such as manuscript, which originally referred to a document written or typed by hand.) In the 17th century the second part of this phrase was borrowed into English to create amanuensis, a word for a person who is employed (willingly) to do the important but sometimes menial work of transcribing the words of another. While other quaint words, such as scribe or scrivener, might have similarly described the functions of such a person in the past, these days we're likely to call him or her a secretary or an administrative assistant.


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 17, 2017 is:

portentous • \por-TEN-tuss\  • adjective

1 : of, relating to, or constituting a portent

2 : eliciting amazement or wonder : prodigious

3 a : being a grave or serious matter 

b : self-consciously solemn or important : pompous

c : ponderously excessive


Our host had a habit of making portentous proclamations about the state of modern art, which was a bit of a turnoff for us as two art majors.

"[Glen Campbell] briefly joined the instrumental rock group the Champs, who'd had some success, in 1958, with 'Tequila,' still one of the best encapsulations of the portentous elation brought on by ice-cold margaritas." — Amanda Petrusich, The New Yorker, 9 Aug. 2017

Did you know?

At the heart of portentous is portent, a word for an omen or sign, which comes to us from the Latin noun portentum of the same meaning. And indeed, the first uses of portentous did refer to omens. The second sense of portentous, describing that which is extremely impressive, developed in the 16th century. A third definition—"grave, solemn, significant"—was then added to the second edition of Webster's New International Dictionary in 1934. The word's connotations, however, have since moved into less estimable territory. It now frequently describes both the pompous and the excessive.


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 16, 2017 is:

travesty • \TRAV-uh-stee\  • noun

1 : a burlesque translation or literary or artistic imitation usually grotesquely incongruous in style, treatment, or subject matter

2 : a debased, distorted, or grossly inferior imitation


"What petty whims of a few higher-ups trampling the nation under their boots, ramming back down their throats the people's cries for truth and justice, with the travesty of state security as a pretext." — Émile Zola, letter, 13 Jan. 1898

"Fans of anime are ferociously purist and loyal, and for them, I suspect, the very notion of converting [Mamoru] Oshii's masterpiece (as it is deemed to be) into a live-action Hollywood remake smells of both travesty and sellout." — Anthony Lane, The New Yorker, 10 Apr. 2017

Did you know?

The noun travesty, which current evidence dates to the 17th century, comes from the French verb travestir, meaning "to disguise." The word's roots, however, wind back through Italian to the Latin verb vestire, meaning "to clothe" or "to dress." Travesty is not the only English descendent of vestire. Others include vestment, divest, and investiture. Travesty, incidentally, can also be a verb meaning "to make a travesty of" or "to parody."


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 15, 2017 is:

inoculate • \ih-NAHK-yuh-layt\  • verb

1 a : to introduce a microorganism into

b : to introduce (something, such as a microorganism) into a suitable situation for growth

c : to introduce immunologically active material (such as an antibody or antigen) into especially in order to treat or prevent a disease

2 : to introduce something into the mind of

3 : to protect as if by inoculation


In 1796, the English physician Edward Jenner discovered that inoculating people with cowpox could provide immunity against smallpox.

"Typically, ambrosia beetles have a symbiotic relationship with a fungus the beetles carry as spores on their bodies. When the beetles bore into the sapwood of the host tree, the galleries formed from the beetle boring are inoculated with the fungal spores." — Les Harrison, The Wakulla News (Crawfordville, Florida), 12 July 2017

Did you know?

If you think you see a connection between inoculate and ocular ("of or relating to the eye"), you are not mistaken—both words look back to oculus, the Latin word for "eye." But what does the eye have to do with inoculation? Our answer lies in the original use of inoculate in Middle English: "to insert a bud in a plant for propagation." Latin oculus was sometimes applied to things that were seen to resemble eyes, and one such thing was the bud of a plant. Inoculate was later applied to other forms of engrafting or implanting, including the introduction of vaccines as a preventative against disease.


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 14, 2017 is:

marginalia • \mahr-juh-NAY-lee-uh\  • noun

1 : marginal notes or embellishments (such as in a book)

2 : nonessential items


"Over the next nine days, [John Hughes] completed the first draft of Home Alone, capped by an eight-hour, 44-page dash to the finale. Before finishing, he'd expressed concerns in the marginalia of his journal that he was working too slowly." — James Hughes, The Chicago Magazine, 10 Nov. 2015

"In Arderne's texts the marginalia has a clear purpose, but in other manuscripts the meaning of the drawings can be indecipherable. There are countless examples of unusual marginalia—monkeys playing the bagpipes, centaurs, knights in combat with snails, naked bishops, and strange human-animal hybrids that seem to defy categorization." — Anika Burgess, Atlas Obscura, 9 May 2017

Did you know?

We don't consider a word's etymology to be marginalia, so we'll start off by telling you the etymology of this one. Marginalia is a New Latin word that borrows from the Medieval Latin adjective marginalis ("marginal") and ultimately from the noun  margo, meaning "border." Marginalia is a relatively new word; it dates from the 19th century despite describing something—notes in the margin of a text—that had existed as far back as the 11th century. An older word, apostille (or apostil) once referred to a single annotation made in a margin, but that word is rare today.


Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 13, 2017 is:

precocious • \prih-KOH-shus\  • adjective

1 : exceptionally early in development or occurrence

2 : exhibiting mature qualities at an unusually early age


"They explained to me that we were going to watch people audition…. I ended up jumping onstage and singing something…. They thought I was precocious enough to be put in the chorus of the production. I was the only kid." — Johnny Galecki, quoted in The Las Cruces (New Mexico) Sun-News, 8 Mar. 2017

"Apricots, almonds, and other fruit trees are notoriously vulnerable to frost damage of buds or precocious flowers…." — Michael Bone et al., Steppes: The Plants and Ecology of the World's Semi-arid Regions, 2015

Did you know?

Precocious got started in Latin when the prefix prae-, meaning "ahead of," was combined with the verb coquere, meaning "to cook" or "to ripen," to form the adjective praecox, which means "early ripening" or "premature." By the mid-1600s, English speakers had turned praecox into precocious and were using it especially of plants that produced blossoms before their leaves came out. By the 1670s, precocious was also being used to describe humans who developed skills or talents before others typically did.