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.
September 11th, 2016
Episode 644 of 758 episodes
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 11, 2016 is: myrmidon \MER-muh-dahn\ noun : a loyal follower; especially : a subordinate who executes orders unquestioningly or unscrupulously Examples: "… when [Howard] Cosell came to TV he was utterly in contrast to the toothy myrmidons who reigned at the microphone and who spoke no evil save for the mayhem they regularly perpetrated upon the English language." — Frank Deford, Sports Illustrated, 8 Aug. 1983 "Britain's National Health Service is a socialized system, and Marsh chafes at new rigid rules imposed by its administrators. He … is shadowed on ward rounds by a bureaucrat who takes notes on his dress and behavior. The reign of the emperor is ending, but Marsh refuses to comply and serve as a myrmidon." — Jerome Groopman, The New York Times, 24 May 2015 Did you know? The Myrmidons, legendary inhabitants of Thessaly in Greece, were known for their fierce devotion to Achilles, the king who led them in the Trojan War. Myrmex means "ant" in Greek, an image that evokes small and insignificant workers mindlessly fulfilling their duties. Whether the original Myrmidons were given their name for that reason is open to question. The "ant" association is strong, however. Some say the name is from a legendary ancestor who once had the form of an ant; others say the Myrmidons were actually transformed from ants. In any case, since the 1400s, we've employed myrmidon in its not-always-complimentary, ant-evoking, figurative sense.