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countermand • \KOUNT-er-mand\ • verb To countermand an order is to revoke it, especially by giving a new order. // Orders to blow up the bridge were countermanded by local officials. See the entry > Examples: "He [rugby player Lewis Jones] almost missed his 1950 Welsh debut as he was about to board an aircraft carrier for Hong Kong before the orders were countermanded." — The Daily Telegraph (London), 9 Mar. 2024 Did you know? In the military, one's mandate is to follow the commands (and sometimes the countermands) of the officers. Doing their bidding is not particularly commendable—it's simply mandatory. The Latin verb mandare, meaning "to entrust" or "to order," is the authority behind countermand. It's also behind the words mandate, command, demand, commend (which can mean "to entrust" as well as "to praise"), and mandatory. Countermand came to English via Anglo French, where the prefix cuntre- ("against") was combined with the verb mander ("to command"). It has been a part of English since the 1400s.


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ebullient • \ih-BULL-yunt\ • adjective If someone or something is appealingly lively and enthusiastic, they may also be described as ebullient. // Akua's ebullient personality made her the life of the party. See the entry > Examples: "[Les] McCann, who would later serve as a drummer and horn player in his high-school marching band, soon developed a love for the great symphonies and for distinctive rhythm and blues vocal stylists such as Bullmoose Jackson, Billy Eckstine and Louis Jordan. But it was the ebullient gospel music he heard at his local Baptist church that touched him the deepest. 'That was the foundation, the basis for all of my knowledge,' says McCann, whose rollicking piano work still bears a strong gospel tinge." — George Varga, The San Diego Union-Tribune, 4 Jan. 2024 Did you know? Someone who is ebullient is bubbling over with enthusiasm, so it shouldn't be much of a surprise that ebullient comes from the Latin verb ebullire, which means "to bubble out." When ebullient was first used in the late 1500s its meaning hewed closely to its Latin source: ebullient meant "boiling" or "bubbling," and described things like boiling water and boiling oil instead of someone's bubbly personality. Only later did the word's meaning broaden beyond describing the liveliness of a boiling liquid to encompass emotional liveliness and enthusiasm.


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panoply • \PAN-uh-plee\ • noun Panoply is a formal word that refers to a group or collection that is impressive either because of its size or because it includes so many different kinds of people or things. // The new website offers shoppers a panoply of snack foods, soft drinks, and other treats from around the world. See the entry > Examples: “Given that all of us, in our daily lives, are constantly confronted by a limitless confusion of knowledge … one can say that all of us are being educated all the while, and that education is in its essence the business of any transmission of knowledge from one party to another. … No part of this vast panoply of knowledge diffusion is more important for the future of human society than that which passes in one direction, downward across the generations, from the older members of a society to the younger.” — Simon Winchester, Knowing What We Know, 2023 Did you know? Despite having Greek origins and similar sounds, panoply is not related—etymologically or semantically—to monopoly; its history has more to do with Mediterranean warfare than Mediterranean Avenue. Panoply comes from the Greek word panoplia, which referred to the full suit of armor worn by hoplites, heavily armed infantry soldiers of ancient Greece. Panoplia is a blend of the prefix pan-, meaning “all,” and hopla, meaning “arms” or “armor.” (As you may have guessed, hopla is also an ancestor of hoplite.) Panoply entered English in the early 17th century with its Greek use intact: it referred to a full set of armor—an impressive array, you might say, of protective bits and bobs, from breastplates to brassards. Over time, panoply developed its figurative sense referring to an impressive, extensive collection or array of things, as in “She won the game by bankrupting her opponents with a panoply of properties built up with houses and hotels.”


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belie • \bih-LYE\ • verb To belie something is to give a false idea or impression of it. Belie can also mean "to show (something) to be false or wrong." // Martin's easy banter and relaxed attitude belied his nervousness. // Their actions belie their claim of innocence. See the entry > Examples: "But his humble presence belies the adventurous life that brought him through World War II and multiple attempts at sailing around the world." — Alejandra Garcia, The Sacramento (California) Bee, 21 Dec. 2020 Did you know? "What is a lie?" asks Lord Byron in Don Juan. He then answers himself: "'Tis but the truth in masquerade...." The history of belie illustrates a certain connection between lying and masquerading as something other than one is. In Old English, belie meant "to deceive by lying," but in time, it came to mean "to tell lies about," taking on a sense similar to that of the modern word slander. Eventually, its meaning softened, shifting from an act of outright lying to one of mere misrepresentation; by the 1700s, the word was being used in the sense "to disguise or conceal." Nowadays, belie is typically applied when someone or something gives an impression that is in disagreement with the facts, rather than in contexts where there is an intentional untruth. A happy face put on to set others at ease, for example, may belie an internal disgruntlement.


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neophyte • \NEE-uh-fyte\ • noun A neophyte is a person who has just started learning or doing something. // As an acting neophyte, Femi took a while to adjust to his newfound Hollywood fame. See the entry > Examples: "First premiering in 2006, Ugly Betty … built up a devoted fanbase. The series, which is now streaming on Netflix, starred Ferrera as the titular 'Ugly' Betty Suarez, a braces-wearing 22-year-old fashion neophyte from Queens." — Alec Bojalad, Den of Geek, 4 Aug. 2023 Did you know? Neophyte is hardly a new addition to the English language—it's been part of the English vocabulary since the 14th century. It traces back through Late Latin to the Greek word neophytos, meaning "newly planted" or "newly converted." These Greek and Latin roots were directly transplanted into the early English uses of neophyte, which first referred to a person newly converted to a religion or cause. By the 1600s, neophyte had gained a more general sense of "a beginner or novice." Today you might consider it a formal elder sibling of such recent informal coinages as newbie and noob.


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futile • \FYOO-tul\ • adjective An effort, action, or emotion described as futile has no result or effect, and therefore serves no useful purpose. // City officials attempted to stifle the scandal, but their efforts were futile. See the entry > Examples: “... when resolve is wearing thin and hope feels futile, sometimes the only thing left to do is laugh.” — Cassidy George, Rolling Stone, 10 Feb. 2023 Did you know? Attempts to pinpoint the first use of the phrase “resistance is futile” may ultimately be futile—that is, pointless or in vain—but that hasn’t stopped folks from trying. Popular in movies and television series from Star Trek to Stargate, Veronica Mars to Napoleon Dynamite, the slogan is often uttered by an antagonist who wants to make it clear in no uncertain terms that they will be the one to prevail in the onscreen struggle. Some people point to a 1976 episode of Doctor Who in which a character called The Master says “Resistance is futile now,” while others prefer the quote without the now, holding up a 1977 episode of Space: 1999 as being the first to feature it. However, author Randall Garrett had both shows beat in his 1961 short story “The Highest Treason,” in which a character says “Not if they … can prove that resistance is futile.” Despite its clear importance to futuristic science fiction, however, the word futile has ancient roots. It comes from the Latin adjective fūtilis/futtilis, which was used to describe things that are brittle or fragile and, by extension, serve no purpose. These meanings survive in the English word futile, which denotes ineffectiveness.


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sequester • \sih-KWESS-ter\ • verb To sequester a person or group is to keep them separate or apart from other people. Sequester is also often used to mean “to bind or absorb (carbon dioxide) as part of a larger chemical process or compound.” // The jury was sequestered until a verdict was reached. See the entry > Examples: “When sea otters were reintroduced to an Alaskan island, they … led to the return of offshore kelp. As well as harboring hundreds of biodiverse species, these towering algal forests also sequester carbon.” — Lucy Cooke, Scientific American, 1 Nov. 2023 Did you know? Sequester is a word that has important legal and scientific uses, and a long history besides. In fact, it can be traced back to the Latin preposition secus, meaning, well, “beside” or “alongside.” Setting someone or something apart (figuratively “to the side”) from the rest is sequester’s raison d’être. We frequently hear it in the context of the courtroom, as juries are sometimes sequestered for the safety of their members or to prevent the influence of outside sources on a verdict. It is also possible, legally speaking, to sequester property—sequester can mean both “to seize” and “to deposit” property by a writ of sequestration. The scientific sense of sequester most often encountered these days has to do with the binding or absorption of carbon. Kelp forests, for example, sequester massive amounts of carbon dioxide during photosynthesis, keeping it “apart” from the atmosphere—by some estimates doing so twenty times as much as terrestrial forests. You might even say kelp’s got this sequestering thing locked up.


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artifice • \AHR-tuh-fus\ • noun Artifice refers to dishonest or insincere behavior or speech that is meant to deceive someone. It can also be used to mean "clever or artful skill." // We found ourselves tremendously moved by his apology, which he made without artifice or pretense. See the entry > Examples: "At the time, almost every comedy on air was filmed live in front of a studio audience—or at least pretended to be. Pretty much all of the biggest shows used a laugh track—The Andy Griffith Show, The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres. Savvy viewers might have figured out that not all of the giggles and guffaws were real, but few people outside the industry understood the extent of the artifice." — Jacob Stern, The Atlantic, 15 Apr. 2024 Did you know? Do great actors display artifice or art? Sometimes a bit of both. Artifice stresses creative skill or intelligence, but it also implies a sense of falseness and trickery. Art generally rises above such falseness, suggesting instead an unanalyzable creative force. Actors may rely on some of each, but the personae they display in their roles are usually artificial creations. Therein lies a lexical connection between art and artifice. Artifice comes from artificium, Latin for "artistry, craftmanship, craft, craftiness, and cunning." (That root also gave us the English word artificial.) Artificium, in turn, developed from ars, the Latin root underlying the word art (and related terms such as artist and artisan).


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lucrative • \LOO-kruh-tiv\ • adjective Something described as lucrative produces money or wealth. // The author parlayed the success of her books into a lucrative second career as a public speaker. See the entry > Examples: "A vibrant commercial Off Broadway sector existed decades ago, but it shrank as the nonprofit theater movement grew, providing a home for adventurous art. It also contracted as Broadway surged, providing the temptation of bigger audiences and higher profits, and as some venues were lost for more lucrative real estate uses." — Michael Paulson, The New York Times, 11 Apr. 2024 Did you know? Paying, gainful, remunerative, and lucrative are all used to describe ways to bring home the bacon, but each term suggests a different amount of bacon being brought in. Paying is the word for jobs that yield the smallest potatoes—a paying job should provide satisfactory compensation, but you're not going to get rich by it. Gainful employment might offer a bit more cash, and gainful certainly suggests that an individual is motivated by a desire for gain. Remunerative implies that a job provides more than the usual rewards, but a lucrative position is really the one you want—that's the kind that goes beyond your initial hopes or expectations to really bring in the lucre (both lucrative and lucre come from the Latin noun lucrum, meaning "gain" or "profit").


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debacle • \dee-BAH-kul\ • noun Debacle is usually used synonymously with fiasco to mean “a complete failure.” It can also refer to a great disaster (though typically not one that causes significant suffering or loss). // After the debacle of his first novel, he had trouble getting a publisher for his next book. // The state has made a great deal of progress in recovering from its economic debacle. See the entry > Examples: “Earlier this year, on an Amtrak train from Northern Virginia to Sanford, Florida, passengers repeatedly called the police during the train’s 20-hour delay. ‘For those of you that are calling the police,’ the conductor had to announce, ‘we are not holding you hostage.’ That debacle was caused by a freight train ahead of them, which had crashed into an empty car parked on the tracks in rural South Carolina. Nothing you can do about that. A train just has to wait until whatever’s in front of it is gone.” — Kaitlyn Tiffany, The Atlantic, 21 Nov. 2023 Did you know? If you need an icebreaker in some social setting, why not recount the history of debacle? After all, when it was first used in English, debacle referred to the literal breaking up of ice (such as the kind that occurs in a river after a long, cold winter), as well as to the rush of ice or water that follows such an event. Eventually, it was also used to mean “a violent, destructive flood.” If that’s not enough to make some fast friends, you could let loose the fact that debacle comes from the French noun débâcle, which in turn comes from the verb débâcler, meaning “to clear, unbolt, or unbar.” You might then add, to your listeners’ grateful appreciation, that these uses led naturally to such meanings as “a breaking up,” “collapse,” and finally the familiar “disaster” and “fiasco.” We can feel the silence thawing already.


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wane • \WAYN\ • verb To wane is to become smaller or less, or in other words, to decrease in size, extent, or degree. // The national scandal caused her popularity to wane. See the entry > Examples: “In 2023, Royal Caribbean's bookings hit an all-time high ahead of the launch of its newest ship, the Icon of the Seas. Interest has yet to wane: The three strongest booking weeks in the company’s history were at the start of 2024 and ‘wave season,’ when cruise lines typically roll out flashy discounts to incentivize reservations.” — Brittany Chang, Business Insider, 20 Mar. 2024 Did you know? In her book Braiding Sweetgrass, scientist Robin Wall Kimmerer, an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, recounts some of the stories of her people surrounding Windigos, fearsome, shrieking monsters that prey on human flesh: “The Windigo is most powerful in the Hungry Times. With the warm breezes his power wanes.” Wane is a verb used when something—such as strength, power, or influence—decreases or diminishes, usually with the implication that the lessening is gradual, natural, or—as in the case of the Windigo—seasonal. Daylight wanes, as does summer. In a classroom, one’s attention may be said to wane if, minute by minute, one becomes more interested in watching birds through the window than following the points of the professor’s lecture. For centuries, wane has also been called upon to describe the seeming decrease in the size of the moon in the later phases of the lunar cycle. The traditional opposite of wane is wax, a once common but now rare synonym of grow. Wane and wax have been partnered in references to the moon since the Middle Ages.


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caveat • \KAV-ee-aht\ • noun A caveat is an explanation or warning that should be remembered when you are doing or thinking about something. In legal contexts, caveat refers to a notice to a court or judicial officer to suspend a proceeding until the opposition can be heard. // All investment advice should come with a caveat: the stock market is impossible to predict with absolute accuracy. See the entry > Examples: "The report details the percentage of students who graduate within four years from when they first enroll in ninth grade. Still, there are caveats to the numbers. For one, students who leave the district after their freshman year to be home-schooled or enroll in private schools aren't included in the calculation." — Sommer Brugal, The Treasure Coast News (Palm Beach, Florida), 7 Jan. 2021 Did you know? You may be familiar with the old saying caveat emptor, nowadays loosely translated as "let the buyer beware." In the 16th century, this adage was imparted as a safeguard for the seller: allow the buyer to examine the item (for example, a horse) before the sale is completed so that the seller can't be blamed if the item turns out to be unsatisfactory. Caveat in Latin means "let him beware" and comes from the verb cavēre, meaning "to be on guard." Perhaps you've also heard the phrase caveat lector; translated as "let the reader beware," it's a warning to take what one reads with a grain of salt. English retained caveat itself as a noun for something that serves to warn, explain, or caution. The word caution, by the way (no salt needed), is also a descendant of cavēre.


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instigate • \IN-stuh-gayt\ • verb To instigate something is to cause it to happen or begin by urging or goading others. Instigate is a synonym of provoke. // The pair was accused of instigating a plot to oust the newly elected mayor. See the entry > Examples: "The image of John, Paul, George and Ringo waving from the top steps of Pan Am Yankee Clipper flight 101 at 1.20pm on 7 February 1964 is among the most iconic in rock'n'roll history. … That aeroplane steps photo was pivotal in instigating a dynamic in rock music whereby boys played guitars to the wild adulation of girls, a misguided social 'norm' that became so deeply embedded in the music industry that we're only now beginning to untangle it." — Mark Beaumont, The Independent (London), 7 Feb. 2024 Did you know? It's time to investigate the true meaning of instigate. Instigate is often used as a synonym of incite (as in "siblings instigating a fight"), but the two words differ slightly in their overall usage. Incite usually stresses an act of stirring something up that one did not necessarily initiate ("the court's decision incited riots"), while instigate implies responsibility for initiating or encouraging someone else's action, and usually suggests dubious or underhanded intent ("he was charged with instigating a conspiracy"). Coming from a form of the Latin verb instigare ("to urge on or provoke"), instigate stepped into English in the 1500s, roughly a century after incite.


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torrid • \TOR-id\ • adjective Torrid can be used to describe something that is literally hot (such as a region near the Earth’s equator) or figuratively hot (such as a romance). // The tabloids were relentless in covering every minor detail of the celebrity couple’s torrid affair. See the entry > Examples: “Chinese cities such as Chongqing, a southwestern metropolis known for its torrid summers, have for years used their air raid tunnels as public cooling centers.” — The Associated Press, 7 July 2023 Did you know? Hot, steamy, sultry: English is full of words that do double-duty in describing thirst traps both literal (as in the tropics) and figurative (as in, well, thirst traps). Torrid comes from the Latin verb torrēre, which means “to burn” or “to parch” and is an ancestor of our word toast. (Despite its dry implications, torrēre is also an ancestor of torrent, as in “a torrent of rain.”) Torrid first appeared in English in the 16th century and was originally used to describe something burned or scorched by exposure to the sun, but it has since taken on an extended meaning similar to the “sexy” sense of hot: “showing fiery passion,” as in “torrid love letters” or “a torrid affair.”


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zhuzh • \ZHUZH (the U is as in PUSH)\ • verb To zhuzh something up is to improve its flavor or appearance by way of a small improvement, adjustment, or addition. // He likes to zhuzh up his outfits with brightly-colored ties. See the entry > Examples: “Ever since my sister introduced me to this life-changing condiment, I’ve slathered [chili crisp] on pretty much everything I could think of—from roasted vegetables and noodles to seafood and popcorn. … That deep savory flavor comes from ingredients like fermented black bean, shallots, mushroom powder, ginger, and seaweed, so it’s no wonder it’s become my go-to pantry staple when I want to zhuzh up my dinner in a matter of seconds.” — Britt Ross, quoted on BuzzFeed, 17 Feb. 2024 Did you know? Zhuzh (alternatively spelled zhoosh) has an onomatopoetic ring to it: it resembles other sound-effect words, such as whoosh or zoom, that suggest dynamic movement, or perhaps more appropriately, a ruffling of hair or fabric. The earliest evidence of zhuzh shows that it is part of Polari, a kind of slang known especially for its use in 20th century British gay culture. The word has been in use since at least the 1970s, and gained wild popularity during the 2018 reboot of Queer Eye, a television series in which a fellow needing help in the areas of fashion, grooming, living space, food, and social grace gets a makeover courtesy of five talented gay men. While often used as a verb (usually paired with up), zhuzh is also a noun that refers to a small improvement or adjustment, as in “my hair just needs a quick zhuzh and I’ll be ready to go.”


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bogart • \BOH-gahrt\ • verb To bogart something is to use or consume it without sharing. // Nelson advised his friends not to bogart all the snacks before the rest of the party guests arrived. See the entry > Examples: "Producers of individual shows should not be allowed to shape any content but their own; otherwise, the telecast winds up being hijacked by beamed-in celebrities singing songs from terrible musicals no one’s yet seen. And as for those stage-swarming investors? Let’s ban them too. The awards they bogart belong to the authors." — Jesse Green, The New York Times, 2 June 2021 Did you know? The legendary film actor Humphrey Bogart was known for playing a range of tough characters in a series of films throughout the 1940s and 1950s, including The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, and The African Queen. The men he portrayed often possessed a cool, hardened exterior that occasionally let forth a suggestion of romantic or idealistic sentimentality. Bogart also had a unique method of smoking cigarettes in these pictures—letting the butt dangle from his mouth without removing it until it was almost entirely consumed. It is believed that this habit inspired the current meaning of bogart, which was once limited to the phrase "Don't bogart that joint," as popularized by a song on the soundtrack to the film Easy Rider. Today, bogart can be applied to hogging almost anything.


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grudging • \GRUH-jing\ • adjective Grudging is an adjective used to describe something that is said, done, or given unwillingly or reluctantly. It can also describe someone who is unwilling or reluctant to do something. // Her theories have begun to win grudging acceptance in the scientific community. // A number of his former critics have become grudging admirers. See the entry > Examples: “‘I’m impressed,’ said Mati, grudging admiration in her tone. ‘It isn’t just a pretty name and expensive ingredients. I can never make something this tasty.’” — Ken Liu, The Veiled Throne, 2022 Did you know? The English language has been carrying a grudge for a long time—since the 13th century to be exact, when it took the Anglo-French verb grucher/grucer and made it grucchen/grudgen. Both words meant “to grumble and complain” (and if their shared definition, combined with their spelling and pronunciation, reminds you of a certain furry green Muppet who lives in a trash can, you’re onto something: grouch is thought to be a grucchen descendant). Over time grucchen/grudgen became grudge, which picked up the additional, closely related meanings of “to be unwilling to give or allow” and “to allow with reluctance or resentment,” as when Virginia Woolf wrote “if you come to grudge even the sun for shining … fruit does not ripen.” Grudging, which developed from grudge, made its English debut in the 1530s, and has been used ever since to describe someone who is unwilling or reluctant (“a grudging supporter”) or something done or given reluctantly or sparingly (“grudging respect”).


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reputation • \rep-yuh-TAY-shun\ • noun A reputation is the common opinion that people have about someone or something. Reputation can also refer to a positive position that someone or something has in public esteem or regard. // She's earned a reputation as a first-class playwright. // Investors feared that the scandal had damaged the company's reputation beyond repair. See the entry > Examples: "Menton [France] was once a leading lemon-growing region in Europe, with a global reputation and exports as far as the United States and Russia in the 18th century." — Barbara Surk and Daniel Cole, Quartz, 2 Apr. 2024 Did you know? An esteemed word in English, reputation rose to fame during the 14th century and ultimately traces back to the Latin verb reputare, meaning "to take into consideration" or "to think over." Reputare is itself a coupling of the well-known "again" prefix re- and the verb putare, "to reckon." Renowned celebrities of the putare family are the verb repute ("to believe or consider"), the identical noun (synonymous with reputation), the adjectives reputable and reputed, and the adverb reputedly. Other putare cousins of notoriety include dispute, disreputable, imputation, and putative, along with their kin.


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extemporize • \ik-STEM-puh-ryze\ • verb To extemporize means to do something extemporaneously—in other words, to improvise. // A good talk show host must be able to extemporize when interviews don’t go as planned. See the entry > Examples: “The president was fast on his feet. Sensing an opportunity to extemporize, he looked around the chamber, pleased.” — Robin Abcarian, The Los Angeles Times, 12 Feb. 2023 Did you know? Let’s dive into the essence of extemporize by exploring its origins. (We’ll try not to bore you with too many extraneous details.) To extemporize is to say or do something off-the-cuff; extemporize was coined by adding the suffix -ize to the Latin phrase ex tempore, meaning “on impulse” or “on the spur of the moment.” (Incidentally, ex tempore was also borrowed wholesale into English with the meaning “in an extemporaneous manner.”) Other descendants of ex tempore include the now rare extemporal and extemporary—both synonyms of extemporaneous—and as you have no doubt guessed by now, extemporaneous itself.


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plangent • \PLAN-junt\ • adjective Something, such as a sound, that is described as plangent is loud, deep, and often expressive of sadness or suffering. The word is a synonym of plaintive. // The campers were awoken by the plangent howl of a coyote off in the distance. See the entry > Examples: “Adjuah sings in a keening, plangent tone, but at one point he pauses to offer a spoken invitation: ‘Listen to the wind,’ he says. ‘The voices calling to you from yesterday.’” — Giovanni Russonello, The New York Times, 30 June 2023 Did you know? Plangent adds power to our poetry and prose: the pounding of waves, the beat of wings, the tolling of a bell, the throbbing of the human heart, a lover’s knocking at the door—all have been described as plangent. The word plangent traces back to the Latin verb plangere, which has two meanings. The first of those meanings, “to strike or beat,” was sometimes used by Latin speakers in reference to striking one’s breast in grief. This led to the verb’s second meaning, “to lament.” The sense division carried over to the Latin adjective plangens and then into English, giving us two distinct meanings of plangent: “pounding” (as in “the plangent roar of waves”) and “expressive of woe, grief, or melancholy.” Like its synonym plaintive, plangent is often used to describe sounds, from bittersweet melodies to the wails of mourners, evoking deep and heartfelt sadness.