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.
February 27th, 2016
Episode 462 of 827 episodes
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 27, 2016 is: oaf \OHF\ noun 1 : a stupid person 2 : a big clumsy slow-witted person Examples: In high school Bryan was a big oaf, so we were surprised not only by his refined mien but by his position as CEO of a high-tech company. "Here is a person dedicated to minimizing the ripple she makes as she passes through the world. She took up such little space, made such little impact, that in comparison I felt like an oaf of consumption, a wasteful giant, lumbering heedlessly through life." — Rand Richards Cooper, The Commonweal, 8 Jan. 2016 Did you know? A long time ago in England, it was believed that goblins sometimes secretly exchanged their babies for human babies. This was used as an explanation when parents found themselves with a particularly ugly or deformed child: these parents wanted to believe that their real baby had been stolen by goblins, and the other left in its place. The label for such a child was auf, or alfe (meaning "goblin's child"), terms that were later altered to form our present-day oaf. Although the linguistic history is not entirely clear, auf and alfe are likely from the Middle English alven and elven, meaning "elf" or "fairy." Today the word oaf is no longer associated with unattractive babies and is instead applied to anyone who appears especially unintelligent or graceless.