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.



August 20th, 2016

Episode 622 of 923 episodes

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 20, 2016 is: namby-pamby \nam-bee-PAM-bee\ adjective 1 : lacking in character or substance : insipid 2 : weak, indecisive Examples: John complained that the movie was a namby-pamby romance with too much dialogue and not enough action. "I go to a barber for a haircut and clip my own nails, and would rather smell broccoli cooking for a week than go to somenamby-pambyspa place to get … my body kneaded like a loaf of over-fermented Wonder Bread." — Michael Penkava, The Northwest Herald (Crystal Lake, Illinois), 27 Feb. 2016 Did you know? Eighteenth-century poets Alexander Pope and Henry Carey didn't think much of their contemporary Ambrose Philips. His sentimental, singsong verses were too childish and simple for their palates. In 1726, Carey came up with the rhyming nickname Namby-Pamby (playing on Ambrose) to parody Philips: "Namby-Pamby's doubly mild / Once a man and twice a child ... / Now he pumps his little wits / All by little tiny bits." In 1729, Pope borrowed the nickname to take his own satirical jab at Philips in the poem "The Dunciad." Before long, namby-pamby was being applied to any piece of writing that was insipidly precious, simple, or sentimental, and later to anyone considered pathetically weak or indecisive.

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