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Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day

14 November 2018

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

    Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 14, 2018 is:

    tomfoolery • \tahm-FOO-luh-ree\  • noun

    : playful or foolish behavior


    The antics in the play itself apparently inspired tomfoolery behind the scenes as well, as cast members reported a host of practical jokes including a few on opening night.

    "Presented as an oral history in a series of conversations between the couple, the book features anecdotes, hijinks, photos, and a veritable grab bag of tomfoolery." — Brandy McDonnell,, 1 Oct. 2018

    Did you know?

    In the Middle Ages, Thome Fole was a name assigned to those perceived to be of little intelligence. This eventually evolved into the spelling tomfool, which, when capitalized, also referred to a professional clown or a buffoon in a play or pageant. The name Tom seems to have been chosen for its common-man quality, much like Joe Blow for an ordinary person or Johnny Reb for a soldier in the Confederate army, but tomfoolery need not apply strictly to actions by men. In Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables (1908), for example, Marilla Cuthbert complains of Anne: "She's gadding off somewhere with Diana, writing stories or practicing dialogues or some such tomfoolery, and never thinking once about the time or her duties."

  • recalcitrant

    Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 13, 2018 is:

    recalcitrant • \rih-KAL-suh-trunt\  • adjective

    1 : obstinately defiant of authority or restraint

    2 a : difficult to manage or operate

    b : not responsive to treatment

    c : resistant


    The magazine, aimed at parents and caregivers of young children, will include the latest in child development science as well as practical information, like tricks for persuading even the most recalcitrant toddler to cooperate.

    "But the reforms are stalled, held back by recalcitrant bureaucrats loathe to give up their authority and perks…." — William M. LeoGrande, Newsweek, 11 May 2018

    Did you know?

    Long before any human was dubbed "recalcitrant" in English (that first occurred in the 18th century), there were stubborn mules (and horses) kicking back their heels. The ancient Romans noted as much (Pliny the Elder among them), and they had a word for it: recalcitrare, which literally means "to kick back." (Its root calc-, meaning "heel," is also the root of calcaneus, the large bone of the heel in humans.) Certainly Roman citizens in Pliny's time were sometimes willful and hardheaded—as attested by various Latin words meaning "stubborn"—but it wasn't until later that writers of Late Latin applied recalcitrare and its derivative adjective to humans who were stubborn as mules.

  • admonish

    Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 12, 2018 is:

    admonish • \ad-MAH-nish\  • verb

    1 a : to indicate duties or obligations to 

    b : to express warning or disapproval to especially in a gentle, earnest, or solicitous manner

    2 : to give friendly earnest advice or encouragement to

    3 : to say (something) as advice or a warning


    The teacher admonished the students to not speak over one another.

    "Ringo Starr rocked, he rolled, he sang, he spoke, he admonished us all to embrace peace and love, not as a tired cliché, but as a tool for the times." — John W. Barry, The Poughkeepsie (New York) Journal, 21 Sept. 2018

    Did you know?

    We won't admonish you if you don't know the origins of today's word—its current meanings have strayed slightly from its history. Admonish was borrowed in the 14th century (via Anglo-French amonester) from Vulgar Latin admonestāre, which itself is probably a derivative of admonestus, the past participle of the Latin verb admonēre, meaning "to warn."  Admonēre, in turn, was formed by the combination of the prefix ad- and monēre, "to warn." Other descendants of monēre in English include monitor, monitory ("giving a warning"), premonition, and an archaic synonym of admonish, monish. Incidentally, admonish has a number of other synonyms as well, including reprove, rebuke, reprimand, reproach, and chide.