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 January 21, 2021 is: exact \ig-ZAKT\ verb
1 : to call for forcibly or urgently and obtain
2 : to call for as necessary or desirable
"The choice between forgiveness and revenge is an age-old tale. Amy March burned Jo March's manuscript out of spite after her older sister wasn't sympathetic to her in Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women.' Stephen King's Carrie used her telekinetic powers to exact revenge on her high school classmates who bullied her." — [Shelby Fleig and Anna Spoerre, The Des Moines (Iowa) Register, 12 Mar. 2020](https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/entertainment/2020/03/12/des-moines-storytellers-iowa-stories-forgiveness-and-revenge-april-21/5005089002/)
"Based on the book by writer Alex Kershaw, 'The Liberator' depicts how the Thunderbirds staggered through a withering 500-plus days of combat in less than two years, exacting a terrible toll on Axis troops while suffering nearly 10,500 casualties during the course of the war." — [David Kindy, Smithsonian, 11 Nov. 2020](https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/true-history-netflixs-liberator-180976269/)
Did you know?
Exact derives from a form of the Latin verb exigere, meaning "to drive out, to demand, or to measure." (Another descendant of exigere is the word [exigent](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/exigent), which can mean "demanding" or "requiring immediate attention.") Exigere, in turn, was formed by combining the prefix ex- with the verb agere, meaning "to drive." Agere has been a prolific source of words for English speakers; it is the ancestor of [agent](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/agent), [react](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/react), [mitigate](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/mitigate), and [navigate](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/navigate), just to name a few. Incidentally, if you are looking for a synonym of the verb exact, you could try [demand](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/demand), [call for](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/call#call-for), [claim](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/claim), or [require](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/require).
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 20, 2021 is: gulosity \goo-LAH-suh-tee\ noun
: excessive appetite : [greediness](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/greediness)
"After a Christmas period generally spent lying down, motionless and swollen, it was time to get back to a life of squats, lunges and sub-9,000 calorie days. Before letting go of my acquired gulosity completely, I decided to indulge in one last meal of excess." — [James Ashford, The Independent (UK), 11 Jan. 2013](https://www.independent.co.uk/student/doing-50-devil-makes-work-idle-minds-8447608.html)
"By the time I was in high school, so convinced was I of the worthiness and delectations of [the English] language that I pounced upon its literature with a ravenous appetite that, at times, alarmed my father, who thought my sociability was cast into arrears owing to my bookish gulosity." — Ramnath Subramanian, The El Paso (Texas) Times, 9 Sep. 2004
Did you know?
Gulosity is a rare word for "[gluttony](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/gluttony)" that sees only occasional use in English these days. It derives via Middle English and Anglo-French from the Latin adjective gulosus ("[gluttonous](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/gluttonous)") and ultimately from the noun gula ("[gullet](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/gullet)"). It was apparently a favorite word of famed 18th-century author and lexicographer Samuel Johnson, who has been falsely credited with coining gulosity, even though evidence for the word's use dates back to the 15th century. According to his biographer, James Boswell, Johnson was no light eater himself: he "indulged with such intenseness, that while in the act of eating, the veins of his forehead swelled, and generally a strong perspiration was visible."
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 19, 2021 is: conjecture \kun-JEK-cher\ verb
1 : to arrive at or deduce by [surmise](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/surmise#h1) or guesswork : [guess](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/guess)
2 : to form a [supposition](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/supposition) or [inference](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/inference)
Some scientists have conjectured that Jupiter's moon Europa could sustain life.
"He conjectured that the quick-sprouting barley would hold the sands through the winter and spring. This would give time for the [lupine](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/lupine) to establish itself, further stabilizing the dunes through the summer and following winter." — [Gary Kamiya, The San Francisco Chronicle, 18 Sept. 2020](https://www.sfchronicle.com/chroniclevault/article/How-sand-dunes-became-SF-s-Golden-Gate-Park-15577843.php)
Did you know?
When the noun [conjecture](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/conjecture#h1) entered English in the 14th century, it referred to the act of interpreting signs or omens especially to make prognostications. That sense is now obsolete, but by the 16th century both the noun and verb conjecture had acquired the meanings of speculation and inference that we use today. Conjecture derives via Middle English and Middle French from the Latin verb conicere ("to throw together"), a combination of com- ("together") and jacere ("to throw").
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 18, 2021 is: preeminent \pree-EM-uh-nunt\ adjective
1 : exhibiting [eminence](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/eminence) especially in standing above others in some quality or position : [prominent](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/prominent)
2 : standing out so as to be readily perceived or noted : [conspicuous](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/conspicuous)
3 : jutting out : [projecting](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/projecting#h2)
"Over the course of 80 years, Chuck Norris has done it all. He served in the military before becoming one of the most universally recognized martial artists of all time, and his skills led to a successful career in films, beginning with a legendary battle against the great Bruce Lee in the iconic action movie, Way of the Dragon, before becoming one of the preeminent action heroes of the 1980s." — [Zak Wojnar, Screen Rant, 4 Dec. 2020](https://screenrant.com/world-tanks-chuck-norris-interview/)
"[Georgia] ranked 10th in tech employment nationally, is a hub of Black tech entrepreneurship, and is home to a cluster of a major academic centers, including Georgia Tech and Emory University, as well as Morehouse and Spelman, two preeminent [HBCUs](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/HBCU) who have made significant contributions to educating underrepresented communities." — [Bhaskar Chakravorti, Harvard Business Review, 4 Dec. 2020](https://hbr.org/2020/12/to-increase-diversity-u-s-tech-companies-need-to-follow-the-talent)
Did you know?
What is noteworthy about the following sentence? "[Denali](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Denali) Mountain is a prominent eminence on the Alaskan landscape." You very likely recognized two words that are closely related to preeminent: [prominent](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/prominent) and [eminence](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/eminence). All three words are rooted in the Latin verb stem -minēre, meaning "to stand out." [Mount](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/mount) is also a related word: it comes from Latin mont- or mons, meaning "mountain," which shares a common ancestor with -minēre. Mount leads us in turn to [paramount](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/paramount), a word closely related in meaning to preeminent.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 17, 2021 is: modicum \MAH-dih-kum\ noun
: a small portion : a limited quantity
"While his narrative on the politics of the place is interesting and edifying it's the passages about his adventures by land, air and sea that really capture the wild beauty and remoteness of a region he grew to love. And he exhibits more than a modicum of derring-do. 'I have always flown pretty close to the sun,' [Aaron] Smith says." — Phil Brown, The Courier Mail (Australia), 5 Dec. 2020
"When the Guardian ran my article on the Visual Perception and Attention Lab at Brunel University London and how it planned to investigate why some gamers invert their controls, I expected a modicum of interest among seasoned readers of the Games section." — [Keith Stuart, The Guardian (London), 8 Dec. 2020](https://www.theguardian.com/games/2020/dec/08/why-do-gamers-invert-their-controls-how-one-question-launched-a-thousand-volunteers)
Did you know?
What does modicum have to do with a toilet? It just so happens that modicum shares the same Latin parent as [commode](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/commode), which is a synonym of [toilet](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/toilet). Modicum and commode ultimately derive from the Latin noun modus, which means "measure." (We borrowed the noun commode from the French, who also used the word as an adjective meaning "suitable, convenient.") Modicum, which, logically enough, refers to a small "measure" of something, has been a part of the English language since the 15th century. It descends from the Latin modicus ("moderate"), which is itself a descendant of modus. Modus really measures up as a Latin root—it also gave us [mode](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/mode) (originally a kind of musical "measure"), [modal](http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/modal), [model](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/model), [modern](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/modern), [modify](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/modify), and [modulate](http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/modulate). More distant relatives include [mete](http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/mete), [moderate](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/moderate), and [modest](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/modest).
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 16, 2021 is: effusive \ih-FYOO-siv\ adjective
1 : marked by the expression of great or excessive emotion or enthusiasm
2 : characterized or formed by a nonexplosive outpouring of lava
Lila's history teacher wrote an effusive letter of recommendation.
"Lyrics like that are desolate, a little tragic; they necessitate a singing style that's not overly effusive." — [Jon Caramanica, The New York Times, 8 Dec. 2020](https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/08/arts/music/shawn-mendes-wonder-review.html)
Did you know?
We've used effusive in English to describe excessive outpourings since the 17th century. In the 1800s, geologists adopted the specific sense related to flowing lava—or to hardened rock formed from flowing lava. Effusive can be traced, via the Medieval Latin adjective effūsīvus ("generating profusely, lavish"), to the Latin verb effundere ("to pour out"), which itself comes from fundere ("to pour") plus a modification of the prefix ex- ("out"). Our verb [effuse](https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/effuse) has the same Latin ancestors. A person effuses when speaking effusively. Liquids can effuse as well, as in "water effusing from a pipe."
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