Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Trenchant

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

What It Means

Trenchant is a formal word that is usually used to describe communication that is notably strong, clear, and perceptive, or in other words, “sharp.”

// The author’s trenchant wit was very evident in the critique she wrote of the much-acclaimed film.

// Trenchant insights made eloquently by the speaker clearly affected many of those in the audience.

TRENCHANT in Context

“Written and directed by Tommy Lee Wallace (a longtime collaborator of Halloween director John Carpenter), the film’s scares touch on ancient witchcraft and computer chips made out of Stonehenge fragments. The movie also takes some trenchant digs at TV advertising and emphasizes an odd and foreboding atmosphere over cheap shocks.” — David Sims, The Atlantic, 8 Sep. 2021

Did You Know?

There’s much to know about the word trenchant, but we’ll cut to the chase. The word trenchant comes from the Anglo-French verb trencher, meaning “to cut.” Hence, a trenchant sword is one with a keen edge. Nowadays, trenchant mostly describes things that don’t cut deep literally, but that are still felt: a trenchant remark is one that cuts close to the bone, and a trenchant observation is one that cuts to the heart of the matter. In addition to meaning “caustic” and “sharply perceptive,” trenchant also carries a sense meaning “very strong, clear, and effective” that may be used, for instance, to describe a persuasive essay written with intellectual rigor. If you find yourself forgetting these “edgy” definitions, you might dig up a familiar relative of trenchant: the noun trench, which refers to a long cut or ditch in the ground.

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