Merriam Webster Word of the Day: Nugatory


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

What It Means

Something described as nugatory is of little or no consequence. Nugatory is also used especially in legal contexts to describe something without operative legal effect.

// Most of the criticism of the film in the weeks since its release has been nugatory nonsense.

// The law was unenforced and thus rendered nugatory.

NUGATORY in Context

“Elsewhere [on Death Cab for Cutie’s latest album], [Ben Gibbard] … continues his apparent affinity for writing songs about driving on ‘Wheat Like Waves’ and the gorgeously golden ‘Rand McNally,’ named after the now nugatory road atlas books.” — Madeline Roth, The Daily Beast, 27 Aug. 2022

Did You Know?

Just because nugatory isn’t the most common word in the English language doesn’t mean it’s trifling. Rather, nugatory is literally trifling because the two words are synonymous, as in “comments too nugatory to merit attention.” Nugatory first appeared in English in the 17th century; it comes from the Latin adjective nugatorius, which can mean not only “trifling” or “frivolous” but also “futile.” This sense carried over into English as well, and so in some contexts nugatory means “ineffective” or “having no force,” as when Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Marilynne Robinson invoked “the nugatory value of the contemporary penny.” Nugatory may mean little to some, but we think it’s worth a pretty penny.

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