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.
January 26th, 2016
Episode 435 of 797 episodes
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for January 26, 2016 is: zeugma \ZOOG-muh\ noun : the use of a word to modify or govern two or more words in such a way that it applies to each in a different sense or makes sense with only one (as in "opened the door and her heart to the homeless boy") Examples: A clever use of zeugma was demonstrated by Groucho Marx's character Rufus T. Firefly in Duck Soup (1933):"You can leave in a taxi. If you can't get a taxi, you can leave in a huff. If that's too soon, you can leave in a minute and a huff." "The hallmarks of [David Foster Wallace's] later fiction … are there from the first page…. So, too, are the performative contractions ('w/r/t' as 'with respect to'), lists and self-conscious rhetorical tropes that pepper non-fiction. I don't think anyone has ever wielded zeugma with such knowing playfulness." — Jon Day, The Financial Times, 26 Dec. 2014 Did you know? "Zeugma, like the pun, is economical: it contracts two sentences into one . . .; it links unrelated terms—mental with moral, abstract with physical, high with low—and thus generates surprise," wrote Walter Redfern in Puns (1984). Zeugma, which has been a part of the English language since the 15th century, comes from Greek, where it literally means "joining." The Greek word has another connection to English as well. In the early 1970s, a chemistry professor named Paul Lauterbur developed a technique for producing images of internal organs. He called it zeugmatography because it involved the joining of magnetic fields. Lauterbur was awarded a Nobel Prize, but the name he chose didn’t stick. The technique is known today as magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI.