Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Nadir

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

What It Means

Nadir refers to the lowest or worst point of something. When used in astronomy, nadir describes the point of the celestial sphere that is directly opposite the zenith and vertically downward from the observer.

// Only once the novel’s protagonist reaches her nadir does she arouse the reader’s empathy, and we root for her to climb back to respectability.

NADIR in Context

Into Darkness was once voted hardcore fans’ least favourite Star Trek movie, a nadir for anyone who loved the original series’ more intellectual, cosmic musings. Yet it was all based on a movie that had to destroy everything that went before it, everything that fans expected from a Star Trek episode, just to keep the Enterprise from crashing down to earth for ever.” — Ben Child, The Guardian (London), 24 June 2022

Did You Know?

Nadir is part of the galaxy of scientific words that have come to us from Arabic, a language that has made important contributions to the English lexicon especially in the fields of mathematics, astronomy, medicine, and chemistry. The source of nadir is naḍhīr, meaning “opposite”—the opposite, that is, of the zenith, the highest point of the celestial sphere which is positioned vertically above the observer. (The word zenith itself is a modification of another Arabic word that means “the way over one’s head.”) According to our sources, usage of nadir reached an apex in the 1980s. But worry not for the word’s future: it’s still flying high.

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