Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Microcosm

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

What It Means

Microcosm refers to something (such as a place or an event) that is seen or understood as a small version of something much larger. In the phrase “in microcosm” it describes something in a greatly reduced size or form.

// The game was a microcosm of the entire season, full of ups and downs.

// The model is designed to represent the town in microcosm.

MICROCOSM in Context

“… [Jackson Heights] isn’t just a microcosm of New York City because of its culinary and cultural diversity, it also reflects the ways New York is rapidly changing.” — Sebastian Modak, BBC, 22 Mar. 2023

Did You Know?

Small wonder that the oldest meaning of microcosm in our dictionary is “little world”: the word comes ultimately from the Greek phrase mikros kosmos, meaning “little universe.” That meaning can be applied to many a wee realm, as in “the microcosm of the atom,” but microcosm was originally used by medieval scholars specifically to refer to humans as miniature embodiments of the natural universe. Microcosm soon expanded to refer to places (such as neighborhoods or other communities) thought to embody at a small scale characteristics of larger places, and later to anything serving as an apt representation of something bigger—as when Arthur C. Clarke, famed author of much fiction and nonfiction set in the cosmos, noted that “a sunken ship is a microcosm of the civilization that launched it.”

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