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 September 28, 2020 is: abstain \ub-STAYN\ verb
1 : to choose not to do or have something : to refrain deliberately and often with an effort of [self-denial](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/self-denial) from an action or practice
2 : to choose not to vote
"For more than a hundred and fifty days a year, Ethiopian Orthodox Christians abstain from animal products, in accordance with religious fasting." — [Hannah Goldfield, The New Yorker, 17 July 2020](https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/07/27/ethiopian-tradition-for-the-vegan-curious-at-ras-plant-based)
"The school board Monday voted 5-1, with one abstaining, to approve guidelines for moving classes online that are less restrictive than those established by the state." — [Sarah Kay LeBlanc, The Des Moines (Iowa) Register, 11 Aug. 2020](https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/news/education/2020/08/11/waukee-online-classes-iowa-education-gov-kim-reynolds-return-to-learn-in-person-covid-19-coronavirus/3346849001/)
Did you know?
If you abstain, you're consciously, and usually with effort, choosing to hold back from doing something that you would like to do. One may abstain from a vice, for example, or in parliamentary procedure, one might abstain from placing a vote. So it's no surprise that abstain traces back through Middle English and Anglo-French to the Latin abstinēre, which combines the prefix [ab-](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ab-#h6) ("from, away, off") with tenēre, a Latin verb meaning "to hold." Tenēre has many offspring in English—other descendants include [contain](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/contain), [detain](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/detain), [maintain](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/maintain), [obtain](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/obtain), [pertain](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pertain), [retain](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/retain), and [sustain](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sustain), as well as some words that don't end in -tain, such as [tenacious](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/tenacious). Abstain, like many of its cousins, has been used by English speakers since at least the 14th century.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 27, 2020 is: rambunctious \ram-BUNK-shuss\ adjective
: marked by uncontrollable [exuberance](http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/exuberance) : [unruly](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/unruly)
When the kids get a bit too rambunctious, the parents sit them down for a time-out.
"To calculate your pool's optimum size and depth, think about who will be using it. Will it be holding adults lounging while sipping mai tais or your child's rambunctious soccer team? If kids will be using the pool, how old and tall are they?" — [Laura Daily, The Washington Post, 21 July 2020](https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/home/aboveground-pools-are-riding-a-wave-of-popularity-consider-these-factors-before-buying-one/2020/07/20/fa213144-c6ca-11ea-8ffe-372be8d82298story.html)
Did you know?
Rambunctious first appeared in print in the early half of the 19th century, at a time when the fast-growing United States was forging its identity and indulging in a fashion for colorful new coinages suggestive of the young nation's optimism and exuberance. [Rip-roaring](http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/rip-roaring), [scalawag](http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/scalawag), [scrumptious](http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/scrumptious), [hornswoggle](http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hornswoggle), and [skedaddle](http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/skedaddle) are other examples of the lively language of that era. Did Americans alter the largely British [rumbustious](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/rumbustious) because it sounded, well, British? That could be. Rumbustious, which first appeared in Britain in the late 1700s just after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, was probably based on [robustious](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/robustious), a much older adjective that meant both "robust" and "boisterous."
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 26, 2020 is: emollient \ih-MAHL-yunt\ noun
: something that softens or soothes
"It was a nasal emollient called Ponaris. It was once, the packaging advertised, a NASA staple—included in the agency's medical space kit on every Apollo mission.… The package promised that it would help [rose fever](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/rose%20fever), which I'd become convinced I had gotten from all that potpourri, so I bought it." — [Chantel Tattoli, The Strategist, 18 May 2020](https://nymag.com/strategist/article/ponaris-nasal-emollient-review.html)
"The good news is it's not impossible or even terribly hard to mix up some of your own hand sanitizer. Commercial variants are little more than a whole lot of ordinary alcohol and a generous dollop of some kind of emollient to keep the skin from drying out." — [Jeffrey Kluger, Time, 1 Apr. 2020](https://time.com/5812986/diy-coronavirus-products/)
Did you know?
Emollient derives from the present participle of the Latin verb emollire, which, unsurprisingly, means "to soften or soothe." Emollire, in turn, derives ultimately from mollis, meaning "soft." Another descendant of mollis is [mollify](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/mollify) (essentially meaning "to make softer in temper or disposition"). A more distant relative is [mild](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/mild), which can be traced back to the same ancient source as mollis. The adjective emollient first appeared in print in English in the early 1600s; the noun arrived on the scene soon after.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 25, 2020 is: translucent \trans-LOO-sunt\ adjective
1 : permitting the passage of light:
a : transmitting and diffusing light so that objects beyond cannot be seen clearly
b : [clear](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/clear), [transparent](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/transparent)
2 : free from disguise or falseness
"The dish starts with the gentle, slow sweating of diced onions. Once the onions are translucent, the minced garlic and jalapeno get added to the pot." — [Anita L. Arambula, The San Diego Union-Tribune, 5 Aug. 2020](https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/lifestyle/food-and-cooking/story/2020-08-05/slow-cooked-mexican-stew-celebrates-summer-vegetables#:~:text=The%20star%20ingredient%20is%20the%20calabaza%2C%20or%20squash%2C%20in%20English.&text=For%20the%20sweetest%20flesh%2C%20choose,slow%20sweating%20of%20diced%20onions.)
"Li's novel jumps from Lilia's life in the retirement home to her past and back to Roland's journals with an effortless ease that lulls readers into the translucent bond that tethers Lilia to Roland after decades of silence." — [TinaMarie Craven, The Ridgefield (Connecticut) Press, 11 Aug. 2020](https://www.theridgefieldpress.com/arts-leisure/article/Novel-Approach-Yiyun-Li-s-novel-Must-I-15457039.php)
Did you know?
Look closely and you will see the same group of three letters in translucent and [elucidate](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/elucidate), letting the family relationship between the two words shine through. Both terms descend from the Latin word lucēre, meaning "to shine." (Translucent is from lucēre plus [trans-](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/trans-#h3), which means "through.") When you elucidate something, you make it clear by explaining it in a way that can be easily understood—you shed light on it. Lucēre is also the root of another bright and shining English word, [lucid](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/lucid), which can mean either "bright with light" or "clear and easy to understand."
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 24, 2020 is: nepotism \NEP-uh-tiz-um\ noun
: favoritism (as in appointment to a job) based on kinship
It was strongly believed that nepotism played a role in helping Jessica get the sales manager position at her cousin's store.
"Not only does this nepotism sap the competence of police, government, and business, but it sets up a [zero-sum](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/zero-sum) competition for the necessities of life among clans and ethnic groups, which can quickly turn violent." — [Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature, 2011](https://books.google.com/books?id=J7ATQb6LZX0C&pg=PT766&lpg=PT766&dq=%22sap+the+competence+of+police,+government,+and+business%22&source=bl&ots=6BZs6DE8sP&sig=ACfU3U2PyoaQs5iJnU46TDTYuXqN3kOyTw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwi4uel0azrAhUHknIEHSPADjQQ6AEwAHoECAIQAQ#v=onepage&q=%22sap%20the%20competence%20of%20police%2C%20government%2C%20and%20business%22&f=false)
Did you know?
During his [papacy](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/papacy) from 1471–1484, Sixtus IV granted many special favors to members of his family, in particular his nephews. This practice of papal favoritism was carried on by his successors, and in 1667 it was the subject of Gregorio Leti's book Il Nepotismo di Roma—titled in the English translation, The History of the Popes' Nephews. Shortly after the book's appearance, nepotism began to be used in English for the showing of special favor or unfair preference to any relative by someone in any position of power, be it [ecclesiastical](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ecclesiastical) or not. (The nep- spelling is from nepote, a 17th-century variant of Italian nipote, meaning "nephew.")
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 23, 2020 is: crabwise \KRAB-wyze\ adverb
1 : [sideways](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sideways)
2 : in a [sidling](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sidling) or cautiously indirect manner
"Covered in river scum, hair hanging down his forehead like oily kelp, he found his way to the hold, clambering on hands and knees, inching crabwise over rough-hewn wooden boards, and picking his way past intriguing crates of explorer supplies to find the out-of-view spot he'd settled on during his reconnaissance mission nine days before." — [Laurie Gwen Shapiro, Outside, 24 Jan. 2018](https://www.outsideonline.com/2275906/when-teens-just-snuck-arctic-expeditions)
"It's true that Tito's actions aren't really interrogated, and neither are the consequences of raising boys the way Lydia did—and does, with her grandson Alex. That's a conflict the show is sidling up to crabwise, and I really do wonder what will happen if and when it finally confronts machismo head-on." — [Lili Loofbourow, Slate, 14 Feb. 2019](https://slate.com/culture/2019/02/one-day-at-a-time-netflix-season-3-review.html)
Did you know?
There's no reason to be indirect when explaining the etymology of crabwise—we'll get right to the point. As you might guess, the meaning of the word is directly related to that sidling sea creature, the crab. If you have visited a beach near the sea, you have probably seen crabs scuttling along, often moving sideways. Though the behavior is surely above reproach to the crabs themselves, English speakers tend to be suspicious of what comes at them from the side, and the modern meanings of crabwise reflect this suspicion of the crab's lateral approach. The word crept into English in the early 19th century and has been sidling into our sentences ever since.
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