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 15th, 2014
Episode 46 of 795 episodes
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for December 15, 2014 is: incommensurable \in-kuh-MEN-suh-ruh-bul\ adjective : not commensurable; broadly : lacking a basis of comparison in respect to a quality normally subject to comparison Examples: The two theories are incommensurable, making any attempt at comparison across disciplines ridiculous. "Camus' own predicament as an Algerian of European descent sympathetic to both sides of the Algerian War led him to recognize a collision of incommensurable truths and embrace classical moderation." Steven G. Kellman, The Texas Observer, December 2013 Did you know? Commensurable means "having a common measure" or "corresponding in size, extent, amount, or degree." Its antonym incommensurable generally refers to things that are unlike and incompatible, sharing no common ground (as in the "incommensurable theories" of the first example sentence), or to things that are very disproportionate, often to the point of defying comparison ("incommensurable crimes"). Both words entered English in the 1500s and were originally used (as they still can be) for numbers that have or don't have a common divisor. They came to English by way of Middle French and Late Latin, ultimately deriving from the Latin noun mensura, meaning "measure." Mensura is also an ancestor of commensurate (meaning "coextensive" or "proportionate") and incommensurate ("disproportionate" or "insufficient"), which overlap in meaning with commensurable and incommensurable but are not exact synonyms.