Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day-logo

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day

Language Learning

Free daily dose of word power from Merriam-Webster's experts


Springfield, MA


Free daily dose of word power from Merriam-Webster's experts







tincture • \TINK-cher\ • noun Tincture refers to a solution made by mixing a medicinal substance in an alcoholic solvent. It can also refer to a slight trace of something, as in “a tincture of doubt.” // The shelves behind the apothecary counter were lined with dozens of jars and vials containing tinctures of every color of the rainbow. See the entry > Examples: “Lemon balm can be consumed in several ways. People often drink it as a tea or as an ingredient in a tea blend. You can eat the herb fresh—chopped up into a salad, added to a cold beverage, or even as an ingredient in baked goods. You can find it as a supplement in capsule or tablet form or as an herbal tincture.” — Wendy Wisner,, 4 June 2023 Did you know? A droplet of this, a skosh of that. Now you take that home, throw it in a beaker, and add a touch of ethyl alcohol to hold it all together—baby, you’ve got a tincture going. Tincture is a word with a colorful past most often encountered today in reference to a solution consisting of a medicinal substance mixed with alcohol, as in “Carl weathers his cold with a tincture of echinacea.” When the word first appeared in English in the 14th century, tincture referred to a substance used to color, dye, or stain, but by the 17th century the word had acquired several additional meanings, including “a slight infusion or trace of something.” This sense is still in use today, especially figuratively, as when an aspiring actor is said to feel a “tincture of doubt that the acting lessons are worth what he paid.”



permeable • \PER-mee-uh-bul\ • adjective Permeable is a synonym of penetrable that is used especially to describe things that have pores or openings that permit liquids or gases to pass through. // The new housing project will include a permeable parking lot to help mitigate stormwater runoff. See the entry > Examples: “The idea is to enable cities to soak up and retain excess water with designs focused on nature, including gardens, green roofs, wetlands and permeable sidewalks—allowing water to both sink into the ground and flow outwards.” — Laura Paddison, CNN, 26 Mar. 2023 Did you know? “Our landscapes are changing … they’re becoming less permeable to wildlife at the precise moment animals need to move most,” writes Ben Goldfarb in his book Crossings: How Road Ecology is Shaping the Future of Our Planet. He’s describing the effects of highway infrastructure and at the same time clearly demonstrating the meaning of permeable, a word that traces back to a combination of the prefix per-, meaning “through,” and the Latin verb meare, meaning “to go” or “to pass.” Accordingly, a permeable landscape—such as one where humans have constructed wildlife overpasses—is one that allows animals to pass and spread through unimpeded. Permeable’s relative, the verb permeate (“to spread or diffuse through”) is another commonly used meare descendent, but other relations haven’t managed to permeate the language quite so widely, such as meatus (“a natural body passage”), congé (“a formal permission to depart”), and irremeable (“offering no possibility of return”).



smite • \SMYTE\ • verb Smite means “to hit someone or something very hard.” Other uses of the word include “to severely injure, kill, or attack someone” (as in “smitten by disease”) and “to captivate or take” (as in “smitten by her beauty”). // He smote the ball mightily, which helped us win the game. See the entry > Examples: “Somehow, Kyle Shanahan keeps meeting his accursed fortune with a spirit of inquiry. His record is arguably the most perplexing in the NFL: He is one of its most playful minds and most pained losers. He seems at once young and old, with his boyishly thin neck and easy laugh yet gray bristle and a somewhat scarred look around his eyes, as if he’s waiting for the next hex or treacherous blow of fate to smite him in the face.” — Sally Jenkins, The Washington Post, 10 Dec. 2022 Did you know? Today’s word has been part of the English language for a very long time; its earliest uses date to before the 12th century. Smite can be traced back to the Old English smītan, meaning “to smear (a substance) on something” or “to stain or defile.” Smite kept these meanings for a few centuries before they became obsolete and others arose or became more prominent, among them the modern “to strike or attack.” But smite also has a softer side. As of the mid-17th century, it can mean “to captivate or take”—a sense that is frequently used in the past participle in such contexts as “smitten by their beauty” or “smitten with them” (meaning “in love with them”). If such a shift seems surprising, just remember what they say about the moon hitting your eye like a big pizza pie (that’s a smiting).



avoirdupois • \av-er-duh-POYZ\ • noun Avoirdupois is synonymous with weight and heaviness, especially as related to the body. It also refers to the series of units of weight based on the pound of 16 ounces and the ounce of 16 drams. // The coach limited his recruiting to linebackers of a certain avoirdupois. See the entry > Examples: “... I find it hopeful that we’ve at least begun to dispense with the notion that only thin bodies are healthy and good. And to replace fantastical diet prescriptions with the common sense that healthy bodies eat all kinds of foods, depending on circumstance.... I will say Vogue’s diets have been right at least twice. A little Champagne at lunch is a sound choice, regardless of the rest of the meal, and, as an anonymous writer put it in these pages in 1906, ‘There is healthy fat as there is unhealthy fat, and unless your avoirdupois becomes such as to make you uncomfortable ... you should leave it alone.’” — Tamar Adler, Vogue, 24 Feb. 2022 Did you know? When avoirdupois first appeared in English in the 15th century, it referred to “goods sold by weight,” which is also the meaning of its Middle English predecessor, avoir de pois. That term comes from an Anglo-French phrase meaning “goods of weight” or “property.” Today, avoirdupois most commonly refers to the system of weight measurement used for general merchandise, in which the pound is equal to 16 ounces, the ounce 16 drams, and the dram an ultra-specific 27.344 grains. (Some other weight systems are apothecaries’ weight, used to measure pharmaceutical items, and troy weight, used for precious metals.) It was William Shakespeare, in his play Henry IV, Part 2, who first used avoirdupois to mean “heaviness”: “the weight of a hair will turn the scales between their avoirdupois.”



dexterous • \DEK-strus\ • adjective Dexterous is a formal adjective used to describe someone or something that has or shows great skill or cleverness. // She was praised for her dexterous handling of the crisis. // The movie is a dexterous retelling of a classic love story. // As a shortstop, Alex is a dexterous fielder who is adept at catching any ground ball or line drive hit at him. See the entry > Examples: "There can now be no doubt of Phillis Wheatley’s importance not only to African America but also to the country and culture as a whole. She was a learned, dexterous wielder of the written word in a taut political and racial moment." — Tiya Miles, The Atlantic, 22 Apr. 2023 Did you know? If you believe dexterous to be on the right side of etymological history, well, right on. 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 additional 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 noun dexterity arrived a bit earlier, influenced both by Latin and the Middle French word dexterité). 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. With so many handy words at its disposal, the English language itself is pretty dexterous, amirite?


hive mind

hive mind • \HYVE-mynde\ • noun Hive mind refers to the collective thoughts, ideas, and opinions of a group of people (such as Internet users) regarded as functioning together as a single mind. In biology, hive mind refers to the collective mental activity expressed in the complex, coordinated behavior of a colony of social insects (such as bees or ants) regarded as comparable to a single mind controlling the behavior of an individual organism. // She doesn't need to advertise or publicize—her fans’ hive mind is always ready to promote her work. See the entry > Examples: “It was like coming into this big, welcoming family. The cast were so beautiful and generous. The three directors of this season, we were all new and hadn’t done past seasons. They were wonderful. It was wonderful, too, to be able to tap into the crew. They have this hive mind that they’ve all developed after three seasons together.” — Alyssa McClelland, quoted in The Hollywood Reporter, 27 Sept. 2023 Did you know? Sometimes a biological term crosses over into everyday language with a similar, but less specific meaning. Take drone, a word for a stingless male bee: it dates back all the way to Old English and is also used today for (among other things) someone tasked with boring, repetitive work. More recently, hive mind has similarly flown beyond the apiary; what was first used to talk about the ways that colonies of social insects, like bees and ants, behave as a coordinated unit has come to be applied also to the collective thoughts, ideas, and opinions of a group of people seeming to function as a single entity. It’s not uncommon nowadays to see someone appeal to the hive mind of a social media website for relationship advice or dining recommendations, for example, or refer to a celebrity’s fanbase (like Queen Bey’s “Beyhive”) acting together to share the latest buzz about their favorite star.



bifurcate • \BYE-fer-kayt\ • verb When something bifurcates, it divides into two branches or parts; to bifurcate something is to divide it into two branches or parts. // The stream bifurcated into two narrow winding channels. // When a highway bifurcates a forest, it also splits the habitats of animal populations that may have a difficult time making it across safely to the other side. See the entry > Examples: "Over time, the English ... became more powerful, spreading from Virginia to Maryland to Carolina (not yet bifurcated) ..." — Scott W. Stern, The New Republic, 26 June 2023 Did you know? Yogi Berra, the baseball great who was noted for his head-scratching quotes, is purported to have said, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it." Berra's advice might not offer much help when you're making tough decisions in life, but perhaps it will help you remember bifurcate. A road that bifurcates splits in two, like the one in Berra's adage. Other things can bifurcate (or be bifurcated) as well, such as an organization that splits, or is split, into two factions. Bifurcate comes from the Latin adjective bifurcus, meaning "two-pronged," a combination of the prefix bi- ("two") and the noun furca ("fork"). Furca, as you may have guessed, is also an ancestor of fork, which refers to the handy utensil that can (in a pinch) help us—as Berra might say—to cut our pizza in four pieces when we're not hungry enough to eat six.



felicitous • \fih-LISS-uh-tus\ • adjective Felicitous is an adjective most often used in formal speech and writing to describe something that is very well expressed or suited for some purpose or situation. It can also be used as a synonym for pleasant or delightful. // She had not been asked ahead of time to speak at the event, but she managed some felicitous remarks nonetheless. // That the cousins happened to be on the same flight was a felicitous coincidence—they had no idea the other would even be traveling at that time. See the entry > Examples: “The secret to Finnish contentment has long been debated. But Finns credit their happiness to five essential factors: wellness, a seasonal diet, strong connections to nature, an appreciation for the arts, and the friendly local atmosphere. Travelers on the hunt for happiness can get a glimpse of these felicitous lifestyle features on a visit to Finland.” — Rebecca Ann Hughes, Forbes, 27 Apr. 2023 Did you know? Before a mouse named Mickey ruled the animation scene, there was Felix—a wily black cat who is often regarded as the first cartoon star, and who became an international sensation in the early 20th century for films such as Felix in Hollywood (1923) and Comicalamities (1928). “Felix,” you might say, was a felicitous—that is, apt—name for the happy, Chaplinesque feline. Felix, after all, is a Latin word meaning “happy” or “fruitful,” and the ancestor of the English adjective felicitous, which can mean both “pleasant and delightful,” and “very well suited or expressed.” With regard to the “apt” sense of felicitous, it’s important to note that it is most often applied to someone’s actions or expressions (as in “a felicitous phrase”). In other words, no matter how fitting someone’s choice of pants may be for, say, the world premiere of a new animated movie, it would not be fitting to say “they arrived at the theater wearing felicitous pants.”



detritus • \dih-TRYE-tus\ • noun Detritus refers to debris—that is, the pieces that remain when something breaks, falls apart, or is destroyed. // On her trip to Central America, she was fascinated by how much people have learned from the detritus of ancient civilizations. See the entry > Examples: “[Artist, Fiona] Connor’s one-to-one scale version of the sidewalk squares required a single concrete pour in her studio before she got to work painstakingly recreating the cracks, fissures, graffiti, blackened chewing gum debris, stamps and metal plates common to L.A. sidewalks. She is chronicling the detritus of urban life, the echoes of the city’s past evident in the patches, and nature’s attempt at reclamation all visible in the humble squares of concrete and asphalt.” — Marissa Gluck, The Los Angeles Times, 19 Aug. 2023 Did you know? If you use detritus in speech, remember to stress the second syllable, as you do in the words arthritis and bronchitis. Once you've mastered its meaning and pronunciation, you’ll find that detritus is a term—originally a geology term referring to loose material, such as broken rock fragments, resulting from disintegration—that can be applied in many situations. After the first hard freeze of fall, gardens are littered with the detritus of summer’s plants and produce: stalks, leaves, vines, and maybe even an abandoned hand trowel. As a flood-swollen river retreats to its banks, it leaves detritus—debris gathered by the raging waters—in its wake. The detritus of civilization may include junkyards and abandoned buildings, while mental detritus may include all kinds of useless trivia. (We’re not saying it qualifies as such, but detritus comes from the Latin root deterere, meaning “to wear away, impair.”)



kinetic • \kuh-NET-ik\ • adjective Kinetic has several meanings that all have to do with movement. In physics, kinetic means "of or relating to the motion of material bodies and the forces associated with them"; kinetic energy, for example, is energy associated with motion. More generally, kinetic can be used synonymously with active and lively as well as dynamic and energizing. And kinetic art is art (such as sculpture or assemblage) that has mechanical parts which can be set in motion. // The novel's plot is kinetic and fast-paced, and its effect on the reader is much like that of caffeine. // The loft district is the locus of the city's kinetic arts scene. See the entry > Examples: "To study the behavior of elusive animals, scientists routinely tag them with GPS location trackers. But such devices' battery capacity limits how long they operate. ... So biologist Rasmus Worsøe Havmøller of the University of Copenhagen and his colleagues turned to another abundant power source: kinetic energy generated by an animal's movements. Their kinetic tracker, which Havmøller's team recently tested on domestic dogs, a wild pony and a European bison, could theoretically survive for the entire life span of an active animal." — Rachel Crowell, Scientific American, 9 Sept. 2023 Did you know? Ever watch a top spin? Or see one pool ball collide with another and send it across the felt? When you do, you’re witnessing kinetic energy—the energy of something in motion. Kinetics is a branch of science that deals with the effects of forces upon the motions of material bodies, and something described as kinetic has to do with the motion of material bodies and the forces associated with them. Both words were adopted in the 19th century from the Greek word kinētikos (meaning "of motion") for use in the field of physics, but the adjective kinetic proved too apt for broader application, and by the 1930s it was being used to describe people and things full of literal and figurative energy as well.



culprit • \KUL-prit\ • noun Culprit refers to a person who has committed a crime or done something wrong. Culprit can also refer to the source or cause of a problem. // The break-in was witnessed by several neighbors, and the culprit was quickly apprehended. // Our bread-baking effort was disappointing; the bread failed to rise, and apparently old yeast was the culprit. See the entry > Examples: “A severe housing shortage is the main culprit for steep housing costs. The US is short of anywhere between an estimated 1.5 million and 5.5 million homes. High interest rates are scaring off both would-be buyers and sellers and slowing rates of homebuilding.” — Eliza Relman, Business Insider, 1 Oct. 2023 Did you know? We would be culpable—that is, deserving of blame—if we didn’t clearly explain the origin of culprit. Yes, it is related to culpable, which itself comes (via Middle English and Anglo-French) from the Latin verb culpare, meaning “to blame.” But the etymology of culprit is not so straightforward. In Anglo-French, culpable meant “guilty,” and this was abbreviated “cul.” in legal briefs and texts. Culprit was formed by combining this abbreviation with the Anglo-French word prest or prit, meaning “ready”; literally, a culprit was one who was ready to be proven guilty. The word was eventually adopted into English and used to refer to someone who is accused of a wrongdoing. The word has since taken on an additional meaning: “the source or cause of a problem.”



olfactory • \ahl-FAK-tuh-ree\ • adjective Olfactory describes things that have to do with the sense of smell. // Few can deny the olfactory pleasures of fresh-baked bread, sea breezes, and apple blossoms—all scents with the power to trigger intense nostalgia. See the entry > Examples: “Dogs are uniquely positioned to collect data that helps humans track and preserve endangered species—and find invasive species—because of their exceptional sense of smell. Dogs have millions more olfactory receptor cells than humans.” — Sydney Page, The Washington Post, 9 Sept. 2023 Did you know? No, olfactory is not a noun meaning “a place that makes scents”; for that, you want perfumery, which makes more sense. Olfactory is instead an adjective used to describe things related to one’s sense of smell, that which lets you detect fruit with your snoot, a leek with your beak, Shiraz with your schnozz. Olfactory comes from the Latin word olfacere (“to smell”), which in turn combines two verbs, olēre (“to give off a smell”) and facere (“to do”). It often appears in scientific contexts (as in “olfactory nerves,” the nerves that pass from the nose to the brain and contain the receptors that make smelling possible), but it is occasionally used in less technical writing and speech. The pleasant smell of hot mulled cider, for example, might be considered an “olfactory delight,” depending on the spices and your own sensibilities, of course. As they say, the nose knows.



abnegate • \AB-nih-gayt\ • verb Abnegate is a formal word that is most often used to mean "to deny or renounce" in contexts relating to responsibility: if you abnegate your responsibilities, you deny them and refuse to do what those responsibilities require. Abnegate can also mean "to surrender or relinquish," especially in contexts in which someone is abandoning their own desires or interests. // The letter outlined ways in which the mayor had abnegated his responsibilities to the city's employees. // Their spiritual practice teaches that the self must be abnegated in order to achieve deep inner peace. See the entry > Examples: "The Athletics' move to Las Vegas isn't official yet, but MLB ownership is expected to rubber-stamp it. ... The league, enabled by Nevada politicians, has displayed shocking arrogance and abnegated its responsibility to fans—a stark reminder that enriching billionaires ultimately is baseball's top priority." — Mark Hill, The New Republic, 29 June 2023 Did you know? There's no denying that the Latin root negāre, meaning "to deny," has given English some useful words, among them abnegate, which is used in formal settings to mean "to deny or renounce" (with responsibilities typically being the thing denied), and "to surrender or relinquish" (with personal desires or self-interest being the thing surrendered). Abnegate combines negāre with the Latin prefix ab-, meaning "from or away." (The related noun abnegation means "denial" or "self-denial.") Other negāre relations include negative, negate, renegade, and deny.



nebbish • \NEB-ish\ • noun Nebbish refers to a timid, meek, or ineffectual person. // Considered a bit of a nebbish by her colleagues, she surprised everyone by speaking up boldly against the proposed changes at the meeting. See the entry > Examples: “[Actor, Paul] Rudd is outstanding, as he toys with his own likability in his performance. Initially, he uses his Paul Rudd charm to persuade Marty [Markowitz, character] and us, that ‘Dr. Ike’ is a good man whose goal is to help this poor nebbish. We all get swept up in his promise not to let people use Marty, and he lets his wife and his friends think he’s performing a mitzvah by bringing the introverted Marty out of his shell.” — Matthew Gilbert, The Boston Globe, 17 Jan. 2023 Did you know? “It looks like Pa isn't anything like the nebbish Ma is always making him out to be.” Sounds like poor Pa got a bum rap, at least according to a 1951 book review that appeared in The New York Times. The unfortunate Pa unwittingly demonstrates much about the etymology of nebbish, which comes from the Yiddish word nebekh, meaning “poor” or “unfortunate.” In keeping with the term’s semantic timidity, its journey from Yiddish to English wasn’t accomplished in a single bold leap. In the earliest known English example of the word, it’s an adjective meaning “harmless or ineffectual.” That mid-19th century use was joined in the early 20th century by the noun we’re familiar with today. Along the way, nebbish has also been used in English as an interjection expressing dismay, pity, sympathy, or regret. The English adjective and interjection are too rare to be included in most general-use English dictionaries, but the noun has made a place for itself in the common lexicon, proving that it’s less of a nebbish than the timid and meek types it refers to.



scrumptious • \SKRUMP-shus\ • adjective Scrumptious is an informal word that is usually used as a synonym of delicious, but can also mean “delightful” or “excellent.” // Parsnips may be an unconventional vegetable to serve on Turkey Day, but they are scrumptious with a little maple syrup drizzled on top. See the entry > Examples: “Need a scrumptious Thanksgiving side dish that will have your holiday guests scrambling for the biggest helping? … This Thanksgiving casserole is more like a dessert than a side dish. It features a rich, silky smooth sweet potato filling that entices the taste buds with cream, butter, pure vanilla extract, and freshly grated nutmeg.” — USA Today, 18 Nov. 2022 Did you know? First appearing in English in the early 1800s, scrumptious is a mouth-watering word that is used to describe things delightful and delectable. It may have originated as an alteration of sumptuous, carrying the elegant connotations of its parent, though this is not certain. The Oxford English Dictionary cites a dialect form of the word used to mean “cheap, stingy” as its earliest use, and posits that it could instead have been formed by combining the verb scrimp, meaning “to be frugal or stingy,” with the adjective suffix -ious. (Scrimption meaning “a tiny amount or pittance” could be a relation.) How could a word with such a meaning lead to the wholly positive scrumptious? The OED points to a similar path taken by the word nice, which began as a word meaning “wanton or lacking restraint” and is now, well, nice. Regardless, scrumptious today is a fun word to say and play around with, a fact apparent to British author Roald Dahl who used the variation scrumdiddlyumptious in his novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.



boilerplate • \BOY-ler-playt\ • noun Boilerplate is a noun that refers to standard or formulaic language, a meaning that comes from an earlier meaning still in use: syndicated material supplied to newspapers in matrix or plate form. Boilerplate can also refer to tightly packed snow. // The last paragraph of the contract was legal boilerplate. See the entry > Examples: "For years, the trolley driver has been putting his own spin on the T’s boilerplate announcements, playing with cadence and pitch, recommending his favorite anime, and cheering on Boston sports teams." — Daniel Kool, The Boston Globe, 15 Sept. 2023 Did you know? In the days before computers, small newspapers around the U.S. relied heavily on feature stories, editorials, and other printed material supplied by large publishing syndicates. The syndicates delivered that copy on metal plates with the type already in place so the local papers wouldn't have to set it. Printers apparently dubbed those syndicated plates "boiler plates" because of their resemblance to the plating used in making steam boilers. Soon boilerplate came to refer to the printed material on the plates as well as to the plates themselves. Because boilerplate stories were often more filler—material used to fill extra space in a column or page of a newspaper to increase its size—than important or informative news, the word acquired negative connotations and gained the "standardized or formulaic language" sense widely used today.



ransack • \RAN-sak\ • verb To ransack a place is to search it for something in a way that causes disorder or damage. // My sister ransacked my room looking for the shoes I had borrowed (and returned). See the entry > Examples: “Now, I didn't pick up any Halloween candy on this particular Costco trip for one big reason. If I bring home a giant sack of assorted goodies, my kids will ransack that stash in short order.” — Maurie Backman, The Motley Fool, 12 Sept. 2023 Did you know? Ransack carries the image of a house being roughly disarranged, as might happen when you are frantically searching for something. This is appropriate given the word’s origin. Ransack comes, via Middle English, from the Old Norse word rannsaka: the rann in rannsaka means “house”; the second half of rannsaka is what is known as an “ablaut” variant of sœkja, meaning “to seek, search out.” But our modern use of the word isn’t restricted to houses. You can ransack a drawer, a suitcase, or even (by hurriedly looking through it) the contents of a book. Ransack also inspired another English word related to disorder and unsteadiness. A now-obsolete form of ransack, ransackle, gave us our adjective ramshackle, meaning “rickety” or “carelessly or loosely constructed.”



laissez-faire • \less-ay-FAIR\ • noun Laissez-faire refers to an economic policy or doctrine that allows businesses to operate with very little interference from the government. Laissez-faire is also used as an adjective, as in “laissez-faire capitalism,” and often figuratively used to mean “hands-off,” as in “she took a laissez-faire approach to managing her employees.” // The newly-announced candidate is a strong advocate of laissez-faire. See the entry > Examples: “There is no doubt that our collective viewing during the Christmas period has always been enhanced by the various versions of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.... Dickens’s most popular work was penned at a time when the government policy of laissez-faire was common practice and led directly to social, economic and political inequality, widespread poverty and inequity.” — Owen Kelly [letter to the editor], The National (Glasgow, Scotland), 29 Dec. 2021 Did you know? The French phrase laissez faire literally means “allow to do,” with the idea being “let people do as they choose.” The origins of laissez-faire are associated with the Physiocrats, a group of 18th-century French economists who believed that government policy should not interfere with the operation of natural economic laws. (The actual coiner of the phrase may have been French economist Vincent de Gournay, or it may have been François Quesnay, who is considered the group’s founder and leader.) The original phrase was “laissez faire, laissez passer,” with the second part meaning “let (things) pass.” Laissez-faire, which first showed up in an English context in the first half of the 19th century, can still mean “a doctrine opposing governmental interference in economic affairs,” but it is also used in broader contexts in which a “hands-off” or “anything-goes” policy or attitude is adopted. It is frequently used as an adjective meaning “favoring a ‘hands-off’ policy,” as in “laissez-faire economics.”



inordinate • \in-OR-dun-ut\ • adjective Something described as inordinate exceeds reasonable limits; it goes beyond what is considered usual, normal, or proper. // We waited an inordinate amount of time to get a table at the restaurant, especially given that it was a Tuesday night. See the entry > Examples: “The majority of attractions are in the northern and western parts of Honduras, but it’s worth spending a day in/around Comayagua regardless of your plans. If you do only one thing here, make it a visit to Rancho Sofia. Don’t be fooled by the inordinate amount of cow photos on their social media page, as this is far more than a farm. This farm-turned-tourist attraction opened a small but stunning hotel two years ago with six rooms, multiple pools, plus camping options and a laundry facility.” — Cassandra Brooklyn,, 18 Apr. 2023 Did you know? Although today it describes something that exceeds reasonable limits, inordinate used to be applied to what does not conform to the expected or desired order of things. That sense, synonymous with disorderly and unregulated, is no longer in use, but it offers a hint as to the origins of inordinate. The word traces back to the Latin verb ordinare, meaning “to arrange,” combined with the negating prefix in-. Ordinare is also the ancestor of such English words as coordination, ordain, ordination, and subordinate. The Latin root comes from the noun ordo, meaning “order” or “arrangement,” from which the English word order and its derivatives originate.



disabuse • \diss-uh-BYOOZ\ • verb To disabuse someone of something, such as a belief, is to show or convince them that the belief is incorrect. // Anyone expecting a light, romantic story will be quickly disabused of that notion by the opening chapter of the novel. See the entry > Examples: “Wineries that persist in using heavier glass continue to blame us—consumers—for believing a heavy bottle signals a better wine. We should disabuse them of their belief in our gullibility. These peacock bottles, strutting to catch our attention, won't work.” — Dave Mcintyre, The Washington Post, 29 Apr. 2023 Did you know? Taken as a product of its parts, one might assume that disabuse means “to not abuse.” While the usage has changed over the years, that assumption isn’t entirely wrong. We know the verb abuse as a word with various meanings having to do with bad physical or verbal treatment, as well as incorrect or excessive use, but when disabuse first appeared in the 17th century, there was a sense of abuse, now obsolete, that meant “to deceive.” Francis Bacon used that meaning, for example, when he wrote in 1605, “You are much abused if you think your virtue can withstand the King’s power.” The prefix dis- has the sense of undoing the effect of a verb, so it’s logical that disabuse means “to undeceive.” English speakers didn’t come up with the idea of joining dis- to abuse all on their own, however. It was the French who first appended their prefix dés- to their verb abuser; our disabuse is modeled after the French word désabuser.