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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.

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innocuous

July 15th, 2015

Episode 257 of 718 episodes

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for July 15, 2015 is: innocuous \ih-NAH-kyuh-wus\ adjective 1 : producing no injury : harmless 2 : not likely to give offense or to arouse strong feelings or hostility : inoffensive, insipid Examples: Laura was relieved to discover that the wild plants her dog had eaten were innocuous. "We're constantly being tracked through social media and our Internet browsing habits for such innocuous details as age, marital status, where we live, recent life events, education level and dog ownership, so companies can pitch their wares to us." Elizabeth Simpson, Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Virginia), June 21, 2015 Did you know? Innocuous has harmful rootsit comes to us from the Latin adjective innocuus, which was formed by combining the negative prefix in- with a form of the verb nocēre, meaning "to harm" or "to hurt." In addition, nocēre is related to the truly "harmful" words noxious, nocent, and even nocuous. Innocent is from nocēre as well, but like innocuous it has the in- prefix negating the hurtful possibilities. Innocuous first appeared in print in 1631 with the clearly Latin-derived meaning "harmless or causing no injury" (as in "an innocuous gas"). The second sense is a metaphorical extension of the idea of injury used to indicate that someone or something does not cause hurt feelings, or even strong feelings ("an innocuous book" or "innocuous issues," for example).

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