Word of the Day – Miasma


noun mye-AZ-muh


1 : a vaporous exhalation formerly believed to cause disease; also : a heavy vaporous emanation or atmosphere

2 : an influence or atmosphere that tends to deplete or corrupt; also : an atmosphere that obscures : fog

Did you know?

In notes taken during a voyage to South America on the HMS Beagle in the 1830s, Charles Darwin described an illness that he believed was caused by “miasma” emanating from stagnant pools of water. For him, miasma had the same meaning that it did when it first appeared in English in the 1600s: an emanation of a vaporous disease-causing substance. (Miasma comes from Greek miainein, meaning “to pollute.”) But while Darwin was at sea, broader applications of miasma were starting to spread. Nowadays, we know germs are the source of infection, so we’re more likely to use the newer, more figurative sense of miasma, which refers to something destructive or demoralizing that surrounds or permeates.


“A number of giant companies like Microsoft and Google have tried to streamline the consumer health experience, while many others have been part of digitizing the back end, but it’s still a miasma of confusion. The pandemic only underscored the poor state of the country’s health services.” — Kara Swisher, The New York Times, 20 Apr. 2021

“While Fresh Kills was an environmental disaster, too—it produced methane gas, leaked millions of gallons of leachate into the groundwater, … and exuded a miasma of foul odors—the opposition to incineration cemented the landfill’s vital role in the city’s trash system.” — Robin Kaiser-Schatzlein, The New Yorker, 24 Apr. 2021