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.
May 9th, 2015
Episode 190 of 831 episodes
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 09, 2015 is: saltation \sal-TAY-shun\ noun 1 a : the action or process of leaping or jumping b : dance 2 : the origin of a new species or a higher taxon in essentially a single evolutionary step Examples: "Neither kangaroos nor rats, the kangaroo rats show a genetic kinship to beavers. The name 'kangaroo' owes to their hopping on enlarged hind legs, a locomotion known as saltation." Kevin J. Cook, The Coloradoan (Fort Collins, Colorado), August 31, 2014 "Toronto residents asked their public library to remove six books and a DVD over the past year, and one of those books was Dr. Seuss's Hop on Pop. The classic rhyming tale of fatherhood and saltation was accused of putting pops at risk of being actually hopped on." Jay Hathaway, Gawker.com, April 30, 2014 Did you know? Saltation comes from Latin, deriving ultimately from the verb salire, meaning "to leap." Etymologists think it meant "leap" or "jump" when it was first used in English, too, but documented evidence of early use in that sense is scarce. Instead, the oldest manuscripts containing the word (which date from the 1620s) show it used as a synonym of "dancing." The first recorded incidence of the "leaping" sense dates from 1646, when British physician and author Sir Thomas Browne used it in an entomological context: "Locusts ... being ordained for saltation, their hinder legs doe far exceed the other." The word made the leap to evolutionary theory in the late 19th century.