Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day


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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.



March 21st, 2015

Episode 142 of 689 episodes

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 21, 2015 is: expiate \EK-spee-ayt\ verb 1 : to extinguish the guilt incurred by 2 : to make amends for Examples: Though the editorial characterizes the mayor's failure to disclose the details of the meeting as a lapse that cannot be expiated, most citizens seem ready to forgive all. "The ethical ambiguity of Szuml's role as Sonderkommandoa 'gray zone,' as Primo Levi described it, victim verging on perpetratoris expiated to a degree by an act of self-sacrifice." Tova Reich, Washington Post, September 25, 2014 Did you know? "Disaster shall fall upon you, which you will not be able to expiate." That ominous biblical prophecy (Isaiah 47:11, RSV) shows that expiate was once involved in confronting the forces of evil as well as in assuaging guilt. The word derives from expiare, Latin for "to atone for," a root that in turn traces to the Latin term for "pious." Expiate originally referred to warding off evil by using sacred rites or to using sacred rites to cleanse or purify something. By the 17th century, Shakespeare (and others) were using it to mean "to put an end to": "But when in thee time's furrows I behold, / Then look I death my days should expiate" (Sonnet 22). Those senses have since become obsolete, and now only the "extinguish the guilt" and "make amends" senses remain in use.

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