word (noun, verb) wɜrd LISTEN
This is the 100th week of Word of the Day and we’ve chosen to mark the occasion by exploring the meanings of word. We’re pretty sure you know that a word is a unit of language. However, it has many other meanings, like a ‘short talk,’ ‘a reprimand,’ ‘a promise or pledge,’ or any expression or utterance. News or rumor can also be word, and so can a password and an order or command. Informally, it can be combined with the first letter of a taboo word in order to avoid saying the word itself. As a verb, it means ‘to express in words.’
- Could you come into my office? I'd like a word about the conference next week.
- The boss had to have a word with the new employee about his scruffy appearance.
- Anne won't let us down; she gave us her word.
- Words won't help us; we need action.
- Word of the King's decree had reached even the furthest corners of the land.
- The boss's word is law around here.
- The teacher suspended the student because he used the F word in class.
- Charlotte thought carefully about how to word the letter.
Words often used with word
have words: with words always in the plural, to have a disagreement or argument. Example: “Ben and Dan had words last week, because Dan was flirting with Ben’s girlfriend.”
be as good as your word: keep your promise. Example: “I didn’t really think Frances could organize the transport at such short notice, but she was as good as her word and managed to arrange everything in time.”
a man of his word, a woman of her word: someone who is trustworthy. Example: “Leo says he’ll get us to the airport in time and he’s a man of his word, so I’m sure he’ll do it.”
put in a word for someone, put in a good word for someone: speak favorably of someone, commend. Example: “You’re applying for a job at that firm? I know the boss; I’ll put in a word for you, if you like.”
my word!: an interjection expressing surprise. Example: “My word! I didn’t expect to see you here.”
take someone’s word for something: believe someone without any further evidence. Example: “I can’t prove it wasn’t me who broke the window; you’ll just have to take my word for it!”
In pop culture
To take the words out of someone’s mouth is a figurative expression meaning that you say something just as someone else was about to say it. You can listen to Meatloaf singing about just that here:
Did you know?
The word on the street is an expression meaning ‘a current rumor or piece of gossip.’ For example: “The word on the street is that all the best people are reading Word Reference’s Word of the Day.”
wording (noun), wordplay (noun), wordsmith (noun), wordy (adjective), wordless (adjective)
Word dates back to before the year 900. Unlike many other terms that have changed pronunciation and spelling, word has remained just as we know it since Old English. It can be traced back to the Proto-Germanic wurdan, from the Proto-Indo-European root were– (to speak or say). It is related to the Old Saxon and Old Frisian word, the Dutch woord, the Old High German wort, the German Wort, the Old Norse orð (or orth), the Gothic waurd and the Latin verbum, all meaning ‘word,’ as well as the Lithuanian var̃das (name). It is also, if more distantly, related to the English word verb and many other modern terms derived from the Latin verbum. It has always kept its original meaning, ‘a unit of language,’ and the theological sense (the word of God), as well as ‘promise,’ also date back to before the year 900. Word-for-word, meaning an exact replica of what someone has said or written, dates back to the late 14th century, while the phrase to have words, usually in the plural, meaning ‘a verbal altercation,’ dates back to the mid-15th century. The expression word of mouth appeared in the mid-16th century. The verb comes from the noun and, meaning ‘to utter,’ dates back to around the year 1200. The sense ‘put into words’ appeared in the early 17th century.