Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Rectitude

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

What It Means

Rectitude is a formal noun that means “moral integrity or righteousness” or “the quality or state of being correct in judgment or procedure.”// The keynote speaker encouraged the graduates to go on to live lives of unimpeachable rectitude and integrity.// As treasurer of the club, she advocated a kind of fiscal rectitude that is widely credited with saving the organization from financial ruin.

RECTITUDE in Context

“The district attorney was the picture of a gray-haired eminence, a figure of rectitude in a circus of a city. He conducted his indictment press conferences—an evening news staple—sitting down, grim as an undertaker, at the center of a long boardroom table. Unlike … his bête noire at the U.S. attorney’s office, he never raised his voice, cracked a smile or indulged in theatrics.” — Andrew Kirtzman, The Washington Post, 9 Dec. 2022

Did You Know?

Ready for some straight talk about rectitude? Righto! Rectitude is a formal word that comes from the Latin adjective rectus, which means both “right” and “straight,” and ultimately from the Latin verb regere, meaning “to lead straight.” Rectitude today typically refers to moral integrity—that is, to “straightness” or “rightness” of character. (An early use referred literally to a straight line, but that sense is now rare.) Rectus has a number of other descendants in English, including rectangle (a closed four-sided figure with four right angles), rectify (“to make right”), rectilinear (“moving in or forming a straight line”), and even rectus itself, a medical term for any one of several straight muscles in the body.

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