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, 2015
Episode 374 of 831 episodes
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 08, 2015 is: gadfly \GAD-flye\ noun 1 : any of various flies that bite or annoy livestock 2 : a person who stimulates or annoys especially by persistent criticism Examples: Ms. Johnson has long been a gadfly at town meetings, and I've grown weary of her attempts to hector the town council into doing as she sees fit. "The council will hold a hearing Wednesday for members of the public to come to City Hall to vent on the budget, an event that often ends up with various gadflies offering their plans for closing the city's deficit." John Byrne, The Chicago Tribune, 11 Oct. 2015 Did you know? The history of gadfly starts with gad, which now means "chisel" but which formerly could designate a spike, a spear, or a rod for goading cattle. Late in the 16th century, gad was joined with fly to designate any of several insects that aggravate livestock. Before too long, we began applying gadfly to people who annoyed or provoked others. One of history's most famous gadflies is the philosopher Socrates, who was known for his constant questioning of his fellow Athenians' ethics, misconceptions, and assumptions. In his Apology, Plato describes Socrates' characterization of Athens as a great slumbering horse and of Socrates himself as the fly that bites and rouses it. Many translations use gadfly in this portion of the Apology, and Socrates is sometimes referred to as the "gadfly of Athens."