The Merriam-Webster Word of the Day is lapidary. Read on for what it means, how it’s used, and more.
What It Means
Lapidary is used to describe something—usually the style of one’s writing or speech—that is elegant and precise in a way that suggests similar qualities associated with inscriptions in stone monuments. It also has the less figurative meaning, “of, relating to, or suggestive of precious stones or the art of cutting them.”
// In a single, lapidary couplet, the poet exquisitely captured the bittersweet mood of autumn.
LAPIDARY in Context
“Last year, [Venus] Williams published an op-ed in the [New York] Times in which she described how her mother, Oracene, at the start of Venus’s career, counselled her to take care of her ‘whole self,’ not only her body but her mind. … Watching Williams, earlier this week, with her lapidary grace and impenetrable expressions, I thought it might explain something else, too. To a degree that I have rarely witnessed in another person, and perhaps never in a prominent athlete, Williams seems to have reserved her self, protected it. There is, behind the calm façade, an inner life that shows in flashes of coolness and bursts of passionate, athletic intensity.” — Louisa Thomas, The New Yorker, 2 Sept. 2022
Did You Know?
The Latin word for “stone” is lapis, which rock hounds and jewelry lovers may be familiar with as the term for a semi-precious, deep blue gem also known as lapis lazuli, or “stone of the sky.” In the 1300s, lapis lent its shine to the English noun lapidary, referring to a cutter, polisher, or engraver of precious stones, as well as to the art of such a person. The crystalline refinement involved in the work of a lapidary eventually led, centuries later, to the use of lapidary as an adjective describing things that have the elegance and precision of inscriptions carved in stone monuments. Today it is used most often to characterize speech or prose (such as an essay, memoir, or address) that is considered notably clear and fine, but lapidary can also describe virtues such as grace and dignity, whether observed in one’s language or character.
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