Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Tactile

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

What It Means

Tactile describes something related to the sense of touch. It can also be used to describe something that is tangible, that is, perceptible by touch.

// With the introduction of haptics to smartphones, receiving a call from a friend became a much more tactile experience.

TACTILE in Context

“Throughout the Houston Zoo’s annual October celebration, animals receive extra stimulation in the form of pumpkins. Elephants like to smash and step on the pumpkins, spokesperson Jessica Reyes says, while primates pop them open to make a snack of the seeds inside. Bears can be spotted licking the pumpkins. The tactile, sensory enrichment encourages animals to ‘be kind of curious,’ providing the same kind of stimulation animals get in the wild, Reyes says.” — Allison Bagley, The Houston Chronicle, 26 Oct. 2022

Did You Know?

Tactile has many relatives in English, from the oft-synonymous tangible to familiar words like intacttacttangentcontingent, and even entire. All of these can be traced back to the Latin verb tangere, meaning “to touch.” Tactile was adopted by English speakers in the early 1600s (possibly by way of the French tactile) from the Latin adjective tactilis (“tangible”). In light of tactile having tangere for a touchstone, its dual senses of “perceptible by touch” and “of, relating to, or being the sense of touch” are perfectly sensible. Since the advent of film, television, and, ahem, touchscreens, a new sense also appears to be developing, as tactile is increasingly used to suggest that something visual is particularly evocative or suggestive of a certain texture.

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