Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Undergird

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

What It Means

Undergird means “to strengthen or support (something) from below” or “to form the basis or foundation of.”

// Their way of life is undergirded by religious faith.

UNDERGIRD in Context

“Genuine connection has always been scarce, but during the height of the pandemic in 2020 it became even more so. [Jake] Johnson wrote the screenplay for Self Reliance during this scary, unpredictable and lonely period. The lessons from isolation undergird the film’s emotional core.” — Lovia Gyarkye, The Hollywood Reporter, 16 Mar. 2023

Did You Know?

When undergird was a new word in the 16th century, it was ships that were undergirded—that is, made secure below—and the undergirding was done by passing a rope or chain underneath. That literal sense has long since fallen out of use, but in the 19th century undergird picked up the figurative “strengthen” or “support” meaning that we still use. Centuries before anything was undergirded, however, people and things could be girded—that is, encircled or bound with a flexible band, such as a belt. Girding today is more often about preparing oneself to fight or to do something difficult, as in “girding themselves for an ideological battle.” About as old as gird is the word’s close relation, girdle, which originally referred to an article of clothing that circles the body usually at the waist; the girdles of today address the same anatomical territory but with the squeezy aim of making the waist look thinner. Gird also gives us girder, a noun referring to a horizontal piece supporting a structure.

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