Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Circumscribe


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

What It Means

Circumscribe means “to limit the size or amount of something,” or, in other words, “to constrict the range or activity of.”

// His role as president was carefully circumscribed by the board.


“[Jane] Addams didn’t put much stock in being ideologically pure. In the best pragmatist tradition, she did the right thing according to the circumstance and the evidence and worked with people of all identities and ideologies to get there. That included people with views very different from her own. Addams wrote: ‘We know instinctively that if we grow contemptuous of our fellows and consciously limit our intercourse to certain kinds of people whom we have previously decided to respect, we not only circumscribe our range of life, but limit the scope of our ethics.’” — Eboo Patel, The Chicago Tribune, 21 Apr. 2022

Did You Know?

To circumscribe something is to limit its size, activity, or range, but the range of influence of the Latin ancestors of circumscribe knows no bounds. Circumscribe comes via Middle English from the Latin verb circumscribere (which roughly translates as “to draw a circle around”), which in turn comes from circum-, meaning “circle,” and scribere, meaning “to write or draw.” Among the many descendants of circum- are circuitcircumferencecircumnavigatecircumspectcircumstance, and circumventScribere gave us such words as scribe and scribble, as well as ascribedescribe, and transcribe, among others.

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