Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day for December 8, 2019 is:

circumscribe • SER-kum-skrybe  • verb

1 a : to constrict the range or activity of definitely and clearly

b : to define or mark off carefully

2 a : to draw a line around

b : to surround by or as if by a boundary

3 : to construct or be constructed around (a geometrical figure) so as to touch as many points as possible


“Perhaps most important, the government was given a circumscribed mission statement—to secure the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness of its citizens, with their consent—and, in the form of the Bill of Rights, a set of lines it could not cross in its use of violence against them.” — Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature, 2011

“But even hacking keyboards and old toys comes with limitations, circumscribed by the chips inside their circuit boards. You can make interesting sounds—especially if you incorporate effects pedals—but you’re still building off the electronic guts you’ve inherited.” — David Rees, The New York Times Magazine, 16 July 2019

Did you know?

Circumscribe has a lot of relatives in English. Its Latin predecessor circumscribere (which roughly translates as “to draw a circle around”) derives from circum-, meaning “circle,” and scribere, meaning “to write or draw.” Among the many descendants of circum- are circuit, circumference, circumnavigate, circumspect, circumstance, and circumvent. Scribere gave us such words as scribe and scribble, as well as ascribe, describe, and transcribe, among others. Circumscribe was first recorded in the 15th century; it was originally spelled circumscrive, but by the end of the century the circumscribe spelling had also appeared.

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