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.
March 27th, 2016
Episode 486 of 848 episodes
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 27, 2016 is: winnow \WIN-oh\ verb 1 : to remove (as chaff) by a current of air; also : to free (as grain) from waste in this manner 2 : to remove, separate, or select as if by winnowing 3 : to narrow or reduce 4 : to blow on or fan Examples: The search committee is finding it extremely difficult to winnow the list of job applicants down to five; many of them are highly qualified and very desirable. "The Washington Post's 10th annual Beer Madness—a bracketed taste-off that will winnow 32 craft brews down to a single champion—is approaching…." — The Washington Post, 10 Feb. 2016 Did you know? Beginning as windwian in Old English, winnow first referred to the removal of chaff from grain by a current of air. This use was soon extended to describe the removal of anything undesirable or unwanted (a current example of this sense would be "winnowing out outdated information"). People then began using the word for the selection of the most desirable elements (as in "winnowing out the true statements from the lies"). The association of winnow with the movement of air led to the meaning "to beat with or as if with wings," but that use is rare enough that it is found only in Merriam-Webster Unabridged. The word's last meaning ("to blow on or fan") blew in at the turn of the 19th century.