Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Divest


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

What It Means

To divest something valuable, such as property or stocks, is to sell it. Similarly, to divest yourself of something valuable is to sell it or give it away. And if you divest someone or something of something, you take that thing away from them, or otherwise cause them to lose it or give it up.

Although somewhat old-fashioned, divest is also sometimes used to mean “to undress or strip especially of clothing, ornament, or equipment.”

// We may have to divest certain assets in order to raise the money.

// The court’s ruling does not divest the family of their ability to use the property.

// I suppose it really is time to divest the Christmas tree of its ornaments, and stow it all away.

DIVEST in Context

“A burgeoning number of institutional investors around the world are placing greater emphasis on ESG [Environmental, Social, and Governance] performance in their decision-making and 74 per cent are now more likely to divest from companies with poor ESG track records.” — Emile Abu-Shakra,, 3 Nov. 2021

Did You Know?

The vest in divest is a close relation of the kind found in closets—its origin is Latin vestis meaning “clothing, garment.” (Vest has the same source and first appeared in English as a verb in the 15th century meaning “to put on garments or vestments.”) Divest today mostly appears in legal and business contexts about a formal removal or loss of something of value; assets that are divested are sold or given away; someone divested of a right officially loses that right. The word’s first late 16th century use, however, was more intimately related to its roots: divest was then used to mean “to undress or strip especially of clothing, ornament, or equipment.” But broader application of divest soon followed. In Shakespeare’s Henry V, the French King Charles is told via messenger that England’s King Henry “wills you, in the name of God Almighty, / That you divest yourself, and lay apart / … the crown / And all wide-stretched honours that pertain …”

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