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 17th, 2016
Episode 476 of 795 episodes
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 17, 2016 is: morass \muh-RASS\ noun 1 : marsh, swamp 2 a : a situation that traps, confuses, or impedes b : an overwhelming or confusing mass or mixture Examples: "Once the sales are complete, the work won't be over. Delivering the items means navigating a morass of regulations from shippers, insurance companies and foreign governments." — Thad Moore, The Tampa Bay Times, 16 Feb. 2016 "The morass Joy finds herself in nearly 20 years later—single mother raising three children, working at an airport, with a deadbeat ex-husband … living in the basement, … is a far cry from the boundless dreams she entertained growing up." — Jonah Allon, The Tufts (University) Daily, 19 Jan. 2016 Did you know? We won't swamp you with details: morass comes from the Dutch word moeras, which itself derives from an Old French word, maresc, meaning "marsh." Morass has been part of English for centuries, and in its earliest uses it was a synonym of swamp or marsh. (That was the sense Robert Louis Stevenson used when he described Long John Silver emerging from "a low white vapour that had crawled during the night out of the morass" in Treasure Island.) Imagine walking through a thick, muddy swamp—it's easy to compare such slogging to trying to disentangle yourself from a sticky situation. By the mid-19th century, morass had gained a figurative sense, and could refer to any predicament that was as murky, confusing, or difficult to navigate as a literal swamp or quagmire.