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.
June 29th, 2016
Episode 570 of 797 episodes
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 29, 2016 is: attenuate \uh-TEN-yuh-wayt\ verb 1 : to make thin or slender 2 : to make thin in consistency : rarefy 3 : to lessen the amount, force, magnitude, or value of : weaken 4 : to reduce the severity, virulence, or vitality of Examples: "… it's been well established that daily exercise such as walking for 30 minutes yields substantial health benefits and that regular physical activity attenuates the health risks associated with overweight and obesity." — Yuri Elkaim, The Dayton (Ohio) Daily News, 4 June 2016 "Confined to a contemporary art emporium, however, an artist such as Ms. Abdalian is often forced either to fill up the chamber so much that it feels like granny’s attic, or to attenuate the offering so that the viewer gets a pretty good idea of what the artist is usually up to, aesthetically and philosophically, elsewhere." — Peter Plagens, The Wall Street Journal, 6 May 2016 Did you know? Attenuate ultimately comes from a combination of the Latin prefix ad-, meaning "to" or "toward," and tenuis, meaning "thin." It has been on the medical scene since the 16th century, when a health treatise recommended eating dried figs to attenuate bodily fluids. That treatment might be outmoded nowadays, but attenuate is still used in medicine to refer to procedures that weaken a pathogen or reduce the severity of a disease. Most often, though, attenuate implies that something has been reduced or weakened by physical or chemical means. You can attenuate wire by drawing it through successively smaller holes, or attenuate gold by hammering it into thin sheets. You can even attenuate the momentum of a play by including too many costume changes.