Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Defile

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

What It Means

Defile means “to make (something) dirty.” It can also mean “to take away or ruin the purity, honor, or goodness of (something or someone important).”

// Students often threw their trash on the ground, defiling the campus in the process.

DEFILE in Context

“Now, in an about-face, the agency is preparing to rework those regulations, potentially allowing state officials to take a broader array of environmental concerns … into account when deciding whether to approve major construction that could defile bodies of water.” — Dino Grandoni, The Washington Post, 27 May 2021

Did You Know?

The verb defile (unrelated to this verb defile or its related noun) has a number of uses that are all variations on the idea of making something unclean or impure. These meanings echo the word’s Middle English and Anglo-French ancestry, where defilement is connected to figurative and literal trampling. The ultimate Anglo-French root is fuller, or foller, which means “to trample under foot,” “to oppress”—or literally, “to full.” Full in this case is a technical term: when you full woolen cloth you shrink and thicken it by moistening, heating, and pressing it. Originally, the pressing part was done by trampling it with the feet.

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