Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Exacerbate

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

What It Means

Exacerbate means “to make more violent, bitter, or severe.”

// It seemed as though every new attempt at a solution served only to exacerbate the problem.


“If you tend to use the elliptical when you’re recovering from a running or other sports-related injury, this could be the machine for you. Even though ellipticals are known to be one of the best options for low-impact exercise, they can sometimes still exacerbate joint pain or healing injuries. This machine, however, is similar to a recumbent bike in that you use it while seated, which takes stress off your back and eliminates potential additional body fatigue.” — Emilia Benton, (San Francisco), 15 Dec. 2022

Did You Know?

The Latin adjective acer, meaning “sharp,” forms the basis of a number of English words. Acerbic (“having a bitter temper or sour mood”), acrid (“having a sharp taste or odor”), and acrimony (“a harsh manner or disposition”) are just the tip of the jagged iceberg. First appearing in English in the 17th century, exacerbate combines the Latin prefix ex- (“out of” or “outside”) with acer offspring acerbus, meaning “harsh” or “bitter.” Just as pouring salt in a wound worsens pain, things that exacerbate cause a situation to go from bad to worse. A pointed insult or cutting remark, for example, might exacerbate tensions between two bitter rivals. The legacy of acer isn’t all negative, however. The Latin name for the genus of maple trees and shrubs is Acer, owing to maples’ characteristically pointy leaves.

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