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A Word A Day — illustrious

October 08, 2012

Word of the Day

  • illustrious
  • audio pronunciation
  • \ih-LUSS-tree-us\


: notably or brilliantly outstanding because of dignity or achievements or actions : eminent

During the ceremony, the illustrious star of stage and screen was presented with a lifetime achievement award.

"Born in 1843 to a wealthy, intellectual Boston family, Marian (Clover) Hooper moved in the most illustrious circles of nineteenth-century America." — From a book review in the New Yorker, March 19, 2012.


Illustrious people seem to light up everything around them. The etymology of "illustrious" makes it clear that a shining glow (both literal and figurative) has long been associated with the word. "Illustrious" ultimately derives from the Latin verb "lustrare," which means "to purify" or "to make bright," and which is related to the noun that gave us "luster." At one time, "illustrious" was used in the literal sense of "shining brightly with light," but that meaning is now considered archaic. The word is now almost exclusively used in its figurative application to describe something that stands out brilliantly, much like a bright star stands out in the sky.

From Merriam-Webster Online at

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Spokesman-Review readers blog about news and issues in Spokane written by Dave Laird.