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.
November 8th, 2014
Episode 12 of 826 episodes
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 08, 2014 is: Byzantine \BIZ-un-teen\ adjective 1 : of, relating to, or characteristic of the ancient city of Byzantium or of the Byzantine Empire 2 : of or relating to the churches using a traditional Greek rite and subject to Eastern canon law 3 often not capitalized : of, relating to, or characterized by a devious and usually surreptitious manner of operation 4 often not capitalized : intricately involved : labyrinthine Examples: A decade of reckless investments and byzantine power struggles eventually led to the company's collapse. "But [Ira] Glass is surely not alone in finding the Bard hard: all those byzantine complexities of plot, all that highly wrought language." Rebecca Mead, New Yorker, October 6, 2014 Did you know? Today, the city that lies on the Bosporus Strait in Turkey is named Istanbul, but it was once known as Constantinople (a name given to it when it became capital of the Eastern Roman, or Byzantine, Empire), and in ancient times, it was called Byzantium. Its history is exoticfilled with mystics, wars, and political infightingand the word Byzantine (from Late Latin Byzantinus, for "native of Byzantium") became synonymous with anything characteristic of the city or empire, from architecture to intrigue. The figurative sense of labyrinthine deviousness first appeared in the late 1930s. It was popularized by its frequent use in reference to the Soviet Union, whose secrecy and despotism were equated by Westerners with what went on in the old Byzantine Empire.