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.
November 27th, 2014
Episode 28 of 797 episodes
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 27, 2014 is: nostrum \NAHSS-trum\ noun : a usually questionable remedy or scheme : panacea Examples: Critics predict the mayor's plan to revitalize the downtown area by offering tax breaks to businesses will prove a costly and ineffective nostrum. "For example, the Internet will likely soon be overflowing with nostrums, essential oils, tree bark, eye of toad and essence of newt promising to prevent or cure Ebola. The FDA and FTC should be gathering their lawyers right now to get this claptrap off the web." Arthur Leonard Caplan, Forbes, September 30, 2014 Did you know? "Whether there was real efficacy in these nostrums, and whether their author himself had faith in them, is more than can safely be said," wrote 19th-century American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, "but, at all events, the public believed in them." The word nostrum has often been linked to quack medicine and false hopes for miracle cures, but there's nothing deceitful about its etymology. It has been a part of English since at least 1602, and comes from the Latin noster, meaning "our" or "ours." Some think that specially prepared medicinal concoctions came to be called nostrums because their purveyors marketed them as "our own" remedy. In other words, the use of nostrum emphasized that such a potion was unique or exclusive to the pitchman peddling it.