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[ shah-muhn ] [ ˈʃɑ mən ] Show IPA Phonetic Respelling


a person who acts as intermediary between the natural and supernatural worlds, using magic to cure illness, foretell the future, control spiritual forces, etc.

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More about shaman

Shaman, “a person who acts as intermediary between the natural and supernatural worlds,” comes via German Schamane and Russian shamán from Evenki šamān. Evenki is an endangered language spoken in Siberia that belongs to the Tungusic family, another member of which may also be the source of the recent Word of the Day saber. A common claim is that, prior to Evenki, the word derived via Mandarin shāmén, “Buddhist monk,” or Tocharian B ṣamāne, “monk,” from Sanskrit śramaṇa-, “ascetic, monk.” Shaman was first recorded in English in the 1690s.

how is shaman used?

Shamans play an important role in many cultures .… The special treatment of the body and use of stones to keep it in a certain position suggests the woman held a unique position in the community, likely some sort of a shaman, the researchers said.

“Earliest known shaman grave site found: study,” Reuters, November 3, 2008
[T]he shaman guiding the ceremony chants, usually to the birds and the spirits in the sky. Soon the others start to sing, too, their voices overlapping to create a rapturous polyphony. At this point, visions ensue. The shaman is attuned to every participant and monitors what they are feeling, intervening when necessary.

Carolina Schneider Comandulli and the Apiwtxa Association, “This Amazonian Indigenous Group Has Lessons in Sustainable Living for All of Us,” Scientific American, May 1, 2022
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⚛️ Today's Word was chosen in partnership with the Museum of Science as the Science Word Of The Week! ⚛️


[ haw-rip-uh-ley-shuhn, ho- ] [ hɔˌrɪp əˈleɪ ʃən, hɒ- ] Show IPA Phonetic Respelling


a bristling of the hair on the skin from cold, fear, etc.; goosebumps.

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Why the Museum of Science chose horripilation

Halloween is rapidly approaching, and you might wonder why horripilation happens when you watch scary movies. Watch the video below to hear more about horripilation from award-winning science communicator Maynard Okereke, better known as the Hip Hop M.D.

More about horripilation

When delving into the history of horripilation, things become hairy rather quickly. The horri- part comes from a Latin verb meaning “to bristle,” and this verb is also the source of words such as horrendous, horrify, and horror. Unlike terror, which literally has to do with being frightened, the root of horror is all about hair standing on its end! In addition, the -pil- part of horripilation is a Latin stem meaning “hair.” Horripilation was first recorded in English in the 1650s.


As the truck set off on the haunted hayride route, the riders experienced some horripilation in anticipation of the scares ahead.


The nervous system response that causes goosebumps is the same response that makes a cat puff up its tail or a porcupine puff out its quills when they are scared. Learn more fun facts at the Museum of Science.

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[ met-uh-mawr-fohz, -fohs ] [ ˌmɛt əˈmɔr foʊz, -foʊs ] Show IPA Phonetic Respelling

verb (used without object)

to undergo or be capable of undergoing a change in form or nature.

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More about metamorphose

Metamorphose “to undergo a change in form or nature” is a back formation from the noun metamorphosis “a complete change in form.” As we learned from the recent Word of the Day defenestrate, a back formation is a word created from another by cutting off a suffix (or what seems to be a suffix) from the older word, such as the verb edit from the noun editor. The noun metamorphosis is a compound of the combining forms meta- “after, beyond” and morph- “form, structure,” which come from Ancient Greek metá “between, after” and morphḗ “shape,” respectively. Though linguists have tried to connect Ancient Greek morphḗ with its Latin equivalent, forma “form, model,” based on the words’ shared sounds, it remains unclear whether the resemblance is merely a coincidence. Metamorphose was first recorded in English in the 1570s.

how is metamorphose used?

A cellular-automata simulation involves a chessboardlike grid of squares, or cells, each of which is either empty or occupied by one of several possible components. At discrete intervals of time, each cell looks at itself and its neighbors and decides whether to metamorphose into a different component. In making this decision, the cell follows relatively simple rules, which are the same for all cells.

David Emmite, James A. Reggia, and Moshe Sipper, “Go Forth and Replicate,” Scientific American, February 1, 2008

Thanks to irrigation, thanks to the Bureau—an agency few people know—states such as California, Arizona, and Idaho became populous and wealthy; millions settled in regions where nature, left alone, would have countenanced thousands at best; great valleys and hemispherical basins metamorphosed from desert blond to semitropic green.

Marc Reisner, Cadillac Desert, 1986
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