Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Pungent

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

What It Means

Pungent typically describes things that have a strong, sharp taste or smell. It can also describe communication that has a strong effect on the mind because of being clever and direct.

// Toni likes to add pungent habaneros to her chili to give it an extra spicy kick.

// The Emmy-nominated series is a pungent satire of today’s political climate.

PUNGENT in Context

“The archive paints a pungent portrait of the couple in their own words, a relationship marked by recrimination and anger but also mutual dependence and tender affection.” — Joseph Berger, The New York Times, 6 Mar. 2023

Did You Know?

Things described as “pungent”—be they on the plate or on the page—have a bite to them, just as the word’s Latin forbear suggests: the verb pungere means “to prick or sting.” Some early uses of pungent described things that literally pricked, and the word is still used this way in the biological sciences for such purposes as identifying fish with pungent dorsal fins or plants (such as holly) with pungent leaves. But most often we reserve pungent for flavors and scents that don’t actually pierce or poke us, even if they result in similar sensations—which many people enjoy! The word is also frequently applied to verbal prickings, in which sharp and incisive language brings a biting quality to satires, critiques, and the like. Not to put too fine a point on it, but we think pungent really cuts the mustard as an evocative word choice.

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