Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Onus

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

What It Means

Onus is a formal word that means “a responsibility, obligation, or burden.” It can also be used in some contexts as a synonym for blame or stigma. It is usually preceded by the word the.

// Management has made it clear that the onus is on employees to ask for further training if they don’t understand the new procedures.

ONUS in Context

“So many of us are solopreneurs, which means we make all of the decisions and the onus is on us to actually follow through on our plans.” — Susan Guillory, Forbes, 18 Aug. 2022

Did You Know?

Understanding the etymology of onus shouldn’t be a burden; it’s as simple as knowing that English borrowed the word—spelling, meaning, and all—from Latin in the 17th century. Onus is also a distant relative of the Sanskrit word anas, meaning cart (as in, a wheeled wagon or vehicle that carries a burden). English isn’t exactly loaded with words that come from Latin onus, but onerous (“difficult and unpleasant to do or deal with”) is one, which is fitting since in addition to being synonymous with “burden,” onus has also long been used to refer to obligations and responsibilities that one may find annoying, taxing, disagreeable, or distasteful.

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