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Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day

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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.

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ululate

June 8th, 2016

Episode 549 of 713 episodes

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 8, 2016 is: ululate \ULL-yuh-layt\ verb : howl, wail Examples: "Millions of pop culture devotees weep and ululate over the death of David Bowie. His passing is noteworthy, given his significant celebrity profile, but I shall miss [journalist] George Jonas' contributions more." — Randall Bell, letter in The National Post (Canada), 13 Jan. 2016 "They talked loud in their language, and together they sounded like mourners ululating." — Sefi Atta, Everything Good Will Come, 2005 (2008) Did you know? "When other birds are still, the screech owls take up the strain, like mourning women their ancient u-lu-lu." When Henry David Thoreau used "u-lu-lu" to imitate the cry of screech owls and mourning women in that particular passage from Walden, he was re-enacting the etymology of ululate (a word he likely knew). Ululate descends from the Latin verb ululare. That Latin root carried the same meaning as our modern English word, and it likely originated in the echoes of the rhythmic wailing sound associated with it. Even today, ululate often refers to ritualistic or expressive wailing performed at times of mourning or celebration or used to show approval.

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