Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Atone

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

What It Means

Atone is usually used with for to mean “to make amends; to provide or serve as reparation or compensation.”

// James tried to atone for the wrongdoings of his youth by devoting his life to helping others.

ATONE in Context

“After a childhood act of cowardice, Amir spends most of the play reflecting on and trying to atone for his failure to come to the aid of his best friend.” — Laura Zornosa, The New York Times, 1 July 2022

Did You Know?

Atone has its roots in the idea of reconciliation and harmony. It grew out of the Middle English phrase at on meaning “in harmony,” a phrase echoed in current expressions like “feeling at one with nature.” When atone joined modern English in the 16th century, it meant “to reconcile,” and suggested the restoration of a peaceful and harmonious state between people or groups. Today, atone specifically implies addressing the damage—or disharmony—caused by one’s own behavior.

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