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.
April 8th, 2015
Episode 160 of 848 episodes
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for April 08, 2015 is: travail \truh-VAIL\ noun 1 a : work especially of a painful or laborious nature : toil b : a physical or mental exertion or piece of work : task, effort c : agony, torment 2 : childbirth, labor Examples: "Japan's electronics industry has been able to hold on to its status as a powerhouse exporter in spite of numerous travails, such as the collapse of the bubble economy in the 1990s." Tatsuo Ito, Wall Street Journal, February 24, 2015 "But this is not the first time Bono has dabbled in journalism, or exposed himself to the unforgiving gaze of the blogosphere. Other literary travails include a blog for the Financial Times in which he describes meeting the Japanese prime minister." Alexandra Topping, The Guardian, January 13, 2009 Did you know? Etymologists are pretty certain that travail comes from trepalium, the Late Latin name of an instrument of torture. We don't know exactly what a trepalium looked like, but the word's history gives us an idea. Trepalium is derived from the Latin tripalis, which means "having three stakes" (from tri-, meaning "three," and palus, meaning "stake"). From trepalium sprang the Anglo-French verb travailler, which originally meant "to torment" but eventually acquired the milder senses "to trouble" and "to journey." The Anglo-French noun travail was borrowed into English in the 13th century, followed about a century later by travel, another descendant of travailler.