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.
December 28th, 2014
Episode 59 of 758 episodes
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 28, 2014 is: circumscribe \SER-kum-skrybe\ verb 1 a : to constrict the range or activity of b : to define or mark off carefully 2 a : to draw a line around b : to surround by or as if by a boundary Examples: Detective Harris's efforts to find evidence linking Muddleston to the murder were circumscribed by laws prohibiting illegal searches and seizures. "While the Christmas spirit should not be circumscribed by a ledger sheet, we should be buoyed by news that Americans' incomes rose, even very modestly, and that gasoline prices continue to fall dramatically." Asbury Park Press (New Jersey), December 1, 2014 Did you know? Circumscribe has a lot of relatives in English. Its Latin predecessor circumscribere (which roughly translates as "to draw a circle around") derives from circum-, meaning "circle," and scribere, meaning "to write or draw." Among the many descendants of circum- are circuit, circumcise, circumference, circumnavigate, circumspect, circumstance, and circumvent. Scribere gave us such words as scribe and scribble, as well as ascribe, describe, and transcribe, among others. Circumscribe was first recorded in the 14th century; it was originally spelled circumscrive, but the "circumscribe" spelling had also appeared by the end of the century.