Word of the Day : March 27, 2012


adjective NEE-jerk


: readily predictable : automatic; also : reacting in a readily predictable way

Did You Know?

Around 1876, the sudden involuntary extension of the leg in response to a light blow just below the knee, which is also known as the "patellar reflex," was given the refreshingly simple designation "knee jerk." In the 1950s, "knee-jerk" became an adjective with a figurative sense that doesn't require any actual twitching. "As a salesman, I'm getting a bit weary of the knee-jerk association of a con artist with my professional calling," a correspondent once wrote to The New York Times Magazine. "Knee-jerk" often has a negative connotation. It usually denotes a too-hasty, impulsive, perhaps even irrational response that is often based on preconceived notions.


After counting the money and realizing that $100 was missing, the manager's knee-jerk response was to fire the clerk.

"Now we know what it takes to get Democrats and Republicans working together - namely, a potential loss of federal dollars and jobs on the home turf. Assuming that this knee-jerk reaction will happen in every state that receives a similar threat, one wonders how a transition from a military-industrial economy to a peacetime economy can ever be realized?" - From a letter to the editor of the Des Moines Register by Rev. Chet Guinn, February 21, 2012

Test Your Memory

What is the meaning of "arrogate," our Word of the Day from March 7? The answer is ...


More Words of the Day

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!