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.
April 29th, 2016
Episode 509 of 823 episodes
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 29, 2016 is: mulct \MULKT\ verb 1 : to punish by a fine 2 a : to defraud especially of money : swindle b : to obtain by fraud, duress, or theft Examples: Francis was finally barred from the securities industry when it was discovered he'd been mulcting investors for years. "Attacking these firms is a crowd-pleasing sport for lawmakers, in part because every constituent has a story about being mulcted by a card issuer." — Michael Hiltzik, The Los Angeles Times, 4 May 2009 Did you know? A fine assessed as a penalty for an infraction is generally considered justifiable. Fraud, on the other hand, is wrong—it's just the sort of thing that deserves a fine. So in mulct we have a unique word, one that means both "to fine" and "to defraud." The "fine" sense came first. Mulct was borrowed from the Latin word for a fine, which is multa or mulcta. The "fine" sense is still in use, mostly in legal contexts ("the court mulcted the defendant for punitive damages"), but these days mulct is more often used for an illegal act. It has been speculated that the use may have come about by association with the verb milk, in its sense "to exploit, to coerce profit from" (as in "she was milked by the lawyers for everything she had"), but that speculation has never been proven.