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 29th, 2016
Episode 631 of 797 episodes
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for August 29, 2016 is: rarefied \RAIR-uh-fyde\ adjective 1 : being less dense 2 : of, relating to, or interesting to a select group : esoteric 3 : very high Examples: Cartography is one of those rarefied fields at which only a select few can actually earn a living. "He was known for photographing the mostrarefiedparties and galas but never partaking of even an hors d'oeuvre or sip of champagne." — Robin Givhan, The Washington Post, 27 June 2016 Did you know? Rarefied was formed from the verb rarefy, which derives from a combination of the Latin rarus ("thin" or "rare") with facere ("to make") and has meant "to make thin" since the 14th century. In its original uses back in the 1500s, the adjective rarefied was on the lean side too; it meant "made less dense" (as in "the fog lifted and we could breathe more easily in the rarefied air"). By the 17th century, rarefy had gained the sense "to refine or purify," and over time rarefied followed suit.