Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Vicissitudes

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

What It Means

The word vicissitudes usually refers to events or situations that occur by chance. It can also apply specifically to the difficulties or hardships, usually beyond one’s control, that are commonly encountered in a life, career, etc., or simply to the quality or state of being changeable.

// Capricorns are often described as persistent, down-to-earth strivers, unlikely to be thrown off by the vicissitudes of life.


“Picture a majestic coniferous forest. The hierarchy in scale and time is pine needle, tree crown, patch, stand, whole forest, and biome. The needles change annually with the seasons. The tree crowns over several years. The patch after many decades. The stand every hundred years or so. The forest over a thousand years. And the biome over tens of thousands of years. The different layers allow the entire system to roll with the vicissitudes and stresses of crowding, parasites, weather, disease, and fire. Continuity is maintained without sacrificing adaptation.” — Jacob L. Taylor,, 28 Oct. 2022

Did You Know?

In one entry of his nine-volume biography of Walt Whitman’s later years, Horace L. Traubel quotes the Good Gray Poet remarking on an in-process manuscript: “If we keep pegging away slowly but persistently, the book must in the end come out—if I should last, and I guess I will. But we mustn’t crow until we’ve left the last limit of the woods behind us—till we’re clean out into the open. The vicissitudes are many—the certainties few.” Whitman’s reflection sheds some light on vicissitudes (the singular form vicissitude is rare but also extant), a word that can refer simply to the fact of change, or to instances of it, but that often refers specifically to hardships or difficulties brought about by change. To survive “the vicissitudes of life” is to survive life’s ups and downs, which is more than worth sounding one’s “barbaric yawp” about over the roofs of the world. The word is a descendant of the Latin vicis, meaning “change” or “alternation.”

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