Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Prowess


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

What It Means

Prowess refers to someone’s great ability, skill, or talent for something specified, as in “the pop star’s vocal prowess” or “a lawyer of great prowess.”

// Already a proven virtuoso on guitar, she extends her considerable instrumental prowess to the piano throughout her new album as well.

PROWESS in Context

“Asa Phillip Randolph led a successful 10-year campaign starting in 1925 to unionize the all-Black male service staff of the Pullman sleeping cars, which were passenger trains with sleeping accommodations. The union, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, was the first Black American labor union to sign a collective bargaining agreement with a major U.S. corporation. Randolph’s organizing prowess also led him to plan the March on Washington years before the 1963 march that became historically known.” — Malaika Jabali, Essence, 5 Sept. 2022

Did You Know?

Prowess is a word with a lot to be proud of. Not only has it performed gallantly for the English language since the 13th century, but it has stayed relatively stalwart in hewing to its original meaning, which is quite a flex. When prowess first joined the ranks of the lexicon, it could be used to refer to bravery, skill, and valor—especially those virtues as encountered in military contexts—or to individual acts of derring-do. The latter was usually used in the plural, as when people waxed rhapsodic about the “prowesses” of knights or some such. Today’s “extraordinary ability” meaning, which developed in the 17th century, tends to stick to the singular form, as when it’s used to describe those with intellectual prowess, or to someone known for their prowess as a fundraiser.

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