Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day for May 23, 2021 is:
gadfly GAD-flye noun
1 : any of various flies (such as a horsefly, botfly, or warble fly) that bite or annoy livestock
2 : a person who stimulates or annoys other people especially by persistent criticism
“One of a handful of well-known corporate gadflies, she often cut a distinctive figure, appearing in costumes that she thought would underscore her messages to company leaders. For an American Broadcasting Company meeting in 1966, not long after the network’s campy series ‘Batman’ had its premiere, she wore a Batman mask; for a meeting of U.S. Steel shareholders in 1968, she wore an aluminum dress.” — Emily Flitter, The New York Times, 7 Nov. 2018
“Ever since the philosopher Nick Bostrom proposed in the Philosophical Quarterly that the universe and everything in it might be a simulation, there has been intense public speculation and debate about the nature of reality. Such public intellectuals as Tesla leader and prolific Twitter gadfly Elon Musk have opined about the statistical inevitability of our world being little more than cascading green code.” — Fouad Khan, Scientific American, 1 Apr., 2021
Did you know?
The history of gadfly starts with gad, which now means “chisel” but which formerly could designate a spike, spear, or rod for goading cattle. Late in the 16th century, gad was joined with fly to designate any of several insects that aggravate livestock. Before too long, we began applying gadfly to people who annoy or provoke others. One of history’s most famous gadflies was the philosopher Socrates, who was known for his constant questioning of his fellow Athenians’ ethics, misconceptions, and assumptions. In his Apology, Plato describes Socrates’ characterization of Athens as a large and sluggish horse and of Socrates himself as the fly that bites and rouses it. Many translations use gadfly in this portion of the Apology, and Socrates is sometimes referred to as the “gadfly of Athens.”