Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Speculate

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

What It Means

In general contexts, speculate means “to form ideas or theories about something usually when there are many things not known about it.” In contexts relating to business or finance, it means “to invest money in ways that could produce a large profit but that also involve a lot of risk.”

// Scientists speculate that the newly discovered exoplanet could contain liquid water.

// Their research explores the implications of so many people speculating on the stock market in the years leading up to the Great Depression.

SPECULATE in Context

“Directed by Ryan Coogler, ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’ … covers a lot of ground, paying tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman and his role of T’Challa, catching up with characters new and old, plus introducing a new foil in Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejía), a fan favorite from the comic books. However just as the original 2018 ‘Panther’ offers an emotional path to understanding family legacy for T’Challa, the sequel puts a similar spotlight on his sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright), while giving fans a chance to speculate where the new Black Panther might go next.” — Brian Truitt, USA Today, 12 Nov. 2022

Did You Know?

It might be said that what separates our species from others is our tendency “to meditate on or ponder a subject.” That’s the original 16th century meaning of speculate. It’s a use not too distant from today’s most common sense, which also involves the mind and thinking: when someone speculates about something, they think and make guesses about it, often forming ideas or theories when there are many things not known about the thing. But the origins of speculate lie not in thinking but in looking—the word comes from Latin specere, meaning “to look,” or “to look at.” We don’t have to look far to find other specere descendants, and we’ll point them out here with some italics: a cursory inspection reveals spectaclespectrumspecimen, and perspective. Less conspicuous are despiseprospect, and species.

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