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Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day for July 20, 2021 is:

attenuate • uh-TEN-yuh-wayt  • verb

1 : to lessen the amount, force, magnitude, or value of : weaken

2 : to reduce the severity, virulence, or vitality of

3 : to make thin or slender

4 : to make thin in consistency : rarefy

5 : to become thin, fine, or less


The use of computers, with their quiet keyboards, in place of typewriters greatly attenuated the noise level of the office.

“Fans who attend Double-A games this year will see a couple of new rules…. During the first half of the season, all infielders must have their feet on the dirt when a pitch is thrown, attenuating the major defensive shifts that have become prevalent in baseball in recent years, and in the season’s second half, no shifting will be permitted at all.” — Ryan Anderson, The Daily Citizen-News (Dalton, Georgia), 15 Apr. 2021

Did you know?

Attenuate ultimately comes from a combining of the Latin prefix ad-, meaning “to” or “toward,” and tenuis, meaning “thin,” a pedigree that is in keeping with the English word’s current meanings, which all have to do with literal or metaphorical thinning. The word is most common in technical contexts, where it often implies the reduction or weakening of something by physical or chemical means. You can attenuate wire by drawing it through successively smaller holes, for example, or attenuate gold by hammering it into thin sheets. Current evidence dates the term to the 16th century, in which we find many references to bodily humors in need of being attenuated; modern medicine prefers to use the word in reference to procedures that weaken a pathogen or reduce the severity of a disease.

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