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.
January 11th, 2015
Episode 73 of 797 episodes
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 11, 2015 is: hieroglyphic \hye-uh-ruh-GLIH-fik\ adjective 1 : written in, constituting, or belonging to a system of writing mainly in pictorial characters 2 : inscribed with hieroglyphic 3 : resembling hieroglyphic in difficulty of decipherment Examples: "Once believed to serve a distinctly religious purpose, Mayan hieroglyphic writing is now thought to record the Mayan historical past." Burton Kirkwood, The History of Mexico, 2009 "The coffee buzz that kept you awake through your 8 a.m. class has since worn off, and as you sink deeper into your seat, notes and lecture become hieroglyphic gibberish." Danielle Carson, Daily 49er, October 19, 2014 Did you know? If hieroglyphic writing is "all Greek to you," you know more about the etymology of hieroglyphic than you might think. That word comes from the Greek hieroglyphikos, which means "sacred carving" (from hieros, meaning "sacred," and glyphein, meaning "to carve"). The ancient Greeks who named hieroglyphic writing reserved that term for the picture writing they found carved in temple walls or on public monuments in Egypt; it was distinguished from writings done in ink on papyrus or other smooth surfaces. But since making their first appearances in English in the 1580s, both the noun hieroglyphics and the adjective hieroglyphic have been extended to apply to the picture writing of various cultures, whether or not those writings were carved or sacred.