Build your vocabulary with Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day! Each day a Merriam-Webster editor offers insight into a fascinating new word -- explaining its meaning, current use, and little-known details about its origin.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 4, 2023 is: 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](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dram).
// The coach limited his recruiting to linebackers of a certain avoirdupois.
[See the entry >](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/avoirdupois)
“... 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](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/grain). (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](https://www.britannica.com/topic/Henry-IV-Part-2), who first used avoirdupois to mean “heaviness”: “the weight of a hair will turn the scales between their avoirdupois.”
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 3, 2023 is: 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 >](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dexterous)
"There can now be no doubt of [Phillis Wheatley’s](https://www.britannica.com/biography/Phillis-Wheatley) 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](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dexterity) arrived a bit earlier, influenced both by Latin and the Middle French word dexterité). The adjective [ambidextrous](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ambidextrous), which combines dexter with the Latin prefix [ambi-](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/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](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/amirite)?
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 2, 2023 is: 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 >](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hive%20mind)
“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](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/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](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/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](https://www.britannica.com/biography/Beyonce)’s “Beyhive”) acting together to share the latest buzz about their favorite star.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 1, 2023 is: 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 >](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bifurcate)
"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](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/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](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/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.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 30, 2023 is: 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 >](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/felicitous)
“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](https://www.britannica.com/biography/Otto-Messmer) 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](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/apt)—name for the happy, [Chaplinesque](https://www.britannica.com/biography/Charlie-Chaplin) 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.”
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 29, 2023 is: 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 >](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/detritus)
“[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](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/arthritis) and [bronchitis](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/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.”)