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 14th, 2016
Episode 524 of 830 episodes
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for May 14, 2016 is: subpoena \suh-PEE-nuh\ noun : a writ commanding a person designated in it to appear in court under a penalty for failure Examples: Subpoenas have been issued to several of the defendant's family members ordering that they testify at trial. "'If we have to compel them to come in, then that's what we're going to do,' he said, referring to possible subpoenas." — Sandra Tan, The Buffalo News, 8 Apr. 2016 Did you know? If you think you recognize the sub- in subpoena as the prefix meaning "under, beneath, below," you're on target. Subpoena arrived in Modern English (via the Middle English suppena) from the Latin sub poena, a combination of sub and poena, meaning "penalty." Other poena descendants in English include impunity ("freedom from penalty"), penal ("of or relating to punishment"), and even punish. There is also the verb subpoena, as in "Defense lawyers have subpoenaed several witnesses to the crime."