Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Exponent

The Merriam-Webster Word of the Day is exponent. Read on for what it means, how it’s used, and more.

What It Means

Exponent refers to “someone who supports a particular cause or belief” as well as “someone who is known for a particular method or style.” 

// He was a leading exponent of animal rights.

EXPONENT in Context

“Onscreen, [Tom] Cruise is unmistakably our biggest movie star, as the New York Times reporter Nicole Sperling recently explained—the last true exponent of a century-old studio system that has been steadily eroded by the rising forces of franchise filmmaking and streaming.” — Calum Marsh, The New York Times, 5 July 2022

Did You Know?

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that exponent and proponent have a lot in common. While the two share visual similarities and closely related definitions, they also have a common ancestor: the Latin ponere, meaning “to put.” Exponent comes from exponere, meaning “to explain, expound, or set forth,” while proponent comes from proponere, meaning “to expose to view, bring to one’s attention, propose.” Today, proponent usually refers to someone who argues in favor of something. Exponent can also refer to someone who is an advocate, but it tends to refer especially to someone who stands out as a shining representative of something. In addition, it has kept its earlier meaning of “one who expounds,” as well as its mathematical symbol meaning.

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