Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Perennial

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

What It Means

Perennial is used to describe things that exist or continue in the same way or state for a long time, as well as things that happen again and again. In botany, perennial describes plants whose life cycles are more than two years long, as in “oregano is perennial.” The noun perennial is also used in botany, as in “oregano is a perennial.”

// Parking is a perennial problem in the quaint seaside town, especially during the summer.

// Hot dogs are a perennial favorite at barbecues.

PERENNIAL in Context

“Wild violets (Viola papilionacea, Viola sororal, Viola pubescens and other species) are a close relative of violas, pansies and other garden flowers. While some people view this plant as a fine wildflower, others regard it as a stubborn perennial lawn weed.” — Kym Pokorny,, 6 May 2023

Did You Know?

When you hear perennial, you probably think of peonies rather than pines. The word today typically describes (or, as a noun, refers to) plants that die back seasonally but produce new growth in the spring. But this wasn’t the word’s initial meaning: originally, perennial was equivalent to evergreen, used, as that word is, for plants that remain with us all year. We took this “throughout the year” sense straight from the Romans, whose Latin word perennis combined per- (“throughout”) with a form of annus (“year”). The poet Ovid, writing around the beginning of the first millennium, used the Latin word to refer to a “perennial spring” (a water source), and the scholar Pliny used it of birds that don’t migrate. Perennial retains these same uses today, for streams and occasionally for birds, but the word has long since branched out to encompass several other senses, including “constant” (as in “a perennial bestseller”) and “recurring” (as in “the perennial joy of reading Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day”).

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