Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Oblivion


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

What It Means

Oblivion can refer to the state of something that is not remembered, used, or thought about any more, or to the state of being unconscious or unaware. It also sometimes refers to the state of being destroyed.

// Like so many pagers of the 1990s, landline phones seem to be headed for oblivion

// After being awake for three days straight, he longed for the oblivion of sleep.

// The sandcastles of summer had long since been swept into oblivion by the ocean waves.

OBLIVION in Context

“I’m not the only one who’s been complaining lately that our art museums seem to have lost their nerve. In Artforum last year, for instance, [author] Alex Kitnick lamented that ‘the dream of the avant-garde museum … has vanished into historical oblivion.’” — Barry Schwabsky, The Nation, 12 Oct. 2022

Did You Know?

Oblivion asks forgetfulness of us in both its meaning and etymology. The word’s Latin source, oblīvīscī, means “to forget; to put out of mind,” and since its 14th century adoption into English, oblivion has hewed close to meanings having to do with forgetting. The word has also long had an association with the River Lethe, which according to Greek myth flowed through the Underworld and caused anyone who drank its water to forget their past; 17th century poet John Milton wrote about “Lethe the River of Oblivion” in Paradise Lost. The adjective oblivious (“lacking remembrance, memory, or mindful attention”) followed oblivion a century later, but not into oblivion—both words have proved obdurate against the erosive currents of time.

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