Merriam-Webster's Words of the Week - Nov. 12

The words that defined the week ending November 12th, 2021


A speech given by a United States Senator brought attention to the word masculinity, after the aforementioned public servant averred that people aligned with the political left were opposed to this concept.

“The left want to define traditional masculinity as toxic,” Sen. Josh Hawley bemoaned in a speech to the National Conservatism Conference in Orlando, Florida, last Sunday. “They want to define the traditional masculine virtues, things like courage and independence and assertiveness, as a danger to society.”
— Kevin McDermott, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 6 Nov. 2021

We define masculinity as “ the quality or nature of the male sex : the quality, state, or degree of being masculine or manly.” Additionally, we define masculinist as “an advocate of male superiority or dominance,” and masculinize as “to give a chiefly masculine character to.” Please note, however, that the (super common) word masculy is semantically unrelated, and does not mean “even more masculine than you thought”; this word is defined as “covered with mascles (a steel plate especially of lozenge shape used in series on 13th century armor).”

’University’ & ‘Confer’

Reports that a group of concerned thinkers were planning on forming a new university caused lookups for that word to spike. Also showing increased lookups was confer, after it was reported that the school in question was not yet accredited, and thus lacked the ability to grant degrees.

A group of scholars and activists are planning to establish a new university dedicated to free speech, alarmed, they said, “by the illiberalism and censoriousness prevalent in America’s most prestigious universities.” The university, to be known as the University of Austin, or UATX for short, will have a soft start next summer with “Forbidden Courses,” a noncredit program that its founders say will offer a “spirited discussion about the most provocative questions that often lead to censorship or self-censorship in many universities.”
— Anemona Hartocollis, The New York Times, 8 Nov. 2021

West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee has joined the board of a new private liberal arts university that aims to fix higher education and is devoted to “the fearless pursuit of truth.” The University of Austin, based in Austin, Texas, is currently not accredited and unable to confer degrees.
— Duncan Slade,, 8 Nov. 2021

University came into English use in the 14th century, initially with such meanings as “a body of persons gathered at a particular place for the disseminating and assimilating of knowledge in advanced fields of study” (a meaning that is now considered archaic). In current use the word typically carries the meaning “an institution of higher learning providing facilities for teaching and research and authorized to grant academic degrees.” Confer, as used transitively in the context of a college or university granting degrees, is defined as “to grant or bestow (something) from or as if from a position of authority.”


Censure spiked in lookups last week, as it often does when a public person does a thing that many other people find objectionable.

Ten House Democrats, led by the co-chairs of the Democratic Women’s Caucus, said Wednesday that they will introduce a House resolution to censure Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., for tweeting a video that included altered animation showing him striking Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., with a sword.
Associated Press, 11 Nov. 2021

Censure often carries with it the meaning of official disapproval: the word may be defined as “a judgment involving condemnation,” “the act of blaming or condemning sternly,” or “an official reprimand.” Although censure is similar in spelling and pronunciation to censor the two words are distinct in meaning: to censor is to remove, block, or interfere with the communication of another.


This week also saw Veterans Day, “November 11 set aside in commemoration of the end of hostilities in 1918 and 1945 and observed as a legal holiday in the U.S. to honor the veterans of the armed forces.” We offer a number of definitions for veteran, which may pertain to military service or simply someone with considerable experience in an occupation or skill. There is occasionally confusion as to whether someone must have been seen combat, or have served in some particular branch of the military in order to be called a veteran. While we do not set such guidelines, the Code of Federal Regulations does, and the definition from this work reads as follows:

Veteran is a person who served on active duty with the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps or Coast Guard, for any length of time and at any place and who was discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable. Reservists or members of the National Guard called to Federal active duty or disabled from a disease or injury incurred or aggravated in line of duty or while in training status also qualify as a veteran. — Code of Federal Regulations, Title 38 (Pensions, Bonuses, and Veterans' Relief), 2017


Démarche (“a petition or protest presented through diplomatic channels”) increased in lookups dramatically last week (although the word is admittedly not one of our most frequented words), after it was used in reference to actions taken by the United States diplomatic service.

Démarcher comes from the French, in which the word has the literal meaning of “gait.” There are a number of other diplomatic words borrowed from this language, including attachéchargé d’affaires, communiqué, détente, and agrément (a word used in diplomatic parlance for approval of a diplomatic representative).

Our Antedating of the Week

Our antedating of the week is fractious, “tending to be troublesome,” “quarrelsome, irritable.” Our earliest known use of this word had previously come in 1714, but recent findings show that the English-speaking people have been fractious since at least the middle of the 17th century.

Then Peasans then out of a surfet of plenty, had growne up to that heighth of insolenco, that they confronted the Gentcie, and gathered in multitudes, and put themselves in armes to suppresse them; and this popular tumult never ceased till Charles le Sage suppressed it; and it made the Kings of France more puissant ever since: for it much increased their Finances, in regard that these extraordinary taxes which the people imposed upon themselves for the support of the war, hath continued ever since a firme revenue to the Crowne; which makes me thinke of a fractious speech of the late Henry the Great, to them of Orleans: for whereas a new imposition was laid upon them, during the league by Monseur de la Chastre, who was a great stickler in those wars, they petitioned Henry the fourth, that he would be pleased to take of that taxe, the King asked them, Who had laid that taxe upon them?
— James Howell, A discourse, or parly, continued betwixt Partricius and Peregrine (upon their landing in France) touching the civill wars of England and Ireland, 1643