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 30th, 2015
Episode 335 of 797 episodes
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for September 30, 2015 is: paroxysm \PAIR-uk-sih-zum\ noun 1 : a fit, attack, or sudden increase or recurrence of symptoms (as of a disease) : convulsion 2 : a sudden violent emotion or action : outburst Examples: Though he seldom loses his temper, his occasional and unpredictable paroxysms of anger are legendary among his colleagues. "Today, for National Hot Dog Month, I rank the 25 best hot dog places in the state. Hot dog purists may go into pickle-fueled paroxysms of paranoia, aghast that several legends are not on this list." Peter Genovese, The Star-Ledger (Newark, New Jersey), 27 July 2015 Did you know? Paroxysm didn't just burst onto the scene recently; its roots go back to ancient Greek. The word ultimately derives from the Greek paroxynein, which means "to stimulate." Oxynein, a parent of paroxynein, means "to provoke" or "to sharpen" and comes from oxys, a Greek word for "sharp." (That root also underlies the word oxygen.) In its earliest known English uses in the 15th century, paroxysm denoted agitation or intensification of a disease or its symptoms. (A still-used example of that sense is "a paroxysm of coughing.") Additionally, paroxysm soon took on a broader sense referring to an outburst, especially a dramatic physical or emotional one.