Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Onerous

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

What It Means

Onerous means “involving, imposing, or constituting a burden.” It typically describes something that is difficult and unpleasant to do or deal with.

// They were assigned the onerous task of post-show cleanup.

// The government imposed onerous taxes on imports.

ONEROUS in Context

“Before the recent removal of quarantine measures, many workers had expressed frustration over the city’s onerous travel restrictions, which at one point required up to 21 days of hotel quarantine.” — Michelle Toh, CNN, 19 Oct. 2022

Did You Know?

Not to go too heavy on the etymology, but the story behind onerous is at once straightforward and, dare we say, poetic. But perhaps that’s putting the cart before the horseOnerous rolled into the English language during the 14th century, via Middle French, from the Latin adjective onerosus, “burdensome.” That word, in turn, was hitched to the noun onus, meaning “burden” (source too of our word onus, which usually refers to a burden or responsibility). Onus shares an ancient root with the Sanskrit word anas, meaning “cart.” So although onerous stresses a sense of laboriousness and often figurative heaviness (especially because something is distasteful, e.g. “the onerous task of cleaning up the mess”), it has a deep connection with a literal weight borne by a person, horse, or other beast of burden.

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