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 22nd, 2015
Episode 143 of 898 episodes
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 22, 2015 is: firebrand \FYRE-brand\ noun 1 : a piece of burning wood 2 : one that creates unrest or strife (as in aggressively promoting a cause) : agitator Examples: She's an activist who views herself as a relentless firebrand willing to stand up for her beliefs even when they are not popular. "Collins said Americans shouldn't just think of Malcolm X as a firebrand but should be inspired by him to understand and be vigilant about liberties for all." Susanne Cervenka, USA Today, February 17, 2015 Did you know? The original firebrands were incendiary indeed: they were pieces of wood set burning at the fire, perhaps for use as a light or a weapon. English speakers started brandishing those literal firebrands as long ago as the 13th century. (Robinson Crusoe held one high as he rushed into a cave on his deserted island and saw "by the light of the firebrand . . . lying on the ground a monstrous, frightful old he-goat.") But the burning embers of the wooden firebrand quickly sparked figurative uses for the term, too. By the early 14th century, firebrand was also being used for one doomed to burn in hell, and by 1382, English writers were using it for anyone who kindled mischief or inflamed passions.