• sultry •
sêl-tree • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Oppressively hot and humid, sweltering. 2. (of women) Sensual, sexually attractive, arousing desire in men.
Notes: Today's Good Word has a synonym, animosity, which was derived from a now defunct adjective, animous. This leaves today's word a lexical orphan with a missing link to its family. Remember, animus is spelled without an O, for that would make it an obsolete adjective. It is a noun.
In Play: We can ball up the senses of "very hot" and "humid" in this one very Good Word: "The rise of air-conditioning is a major factor in the industrialization of sultry regions, like the southern US states." When we get tired of sexy and hot, this word also works for either of these words, and lifts the level of conversation a bit, too: "Gladys Boise wore a sultry dress to the party, but it only attracted the likes of Phil Anders."
Word History: As mentioned in the Notes, today's word is a variant of sweltry, based on the verb swelter. This verb descended from Middle English swelten "to die (from burning), faint (from the heat)". So, how did we get from death to seduction? Well, the Proto-Indo-European word that today's word came from was swel- "burn slowly, shine". It divided into two words in Old English: swelan "to die" and sweltan "to die". Well, that is exactly what swelan did: it died out. But sweltan remained, though its meaning shifted "to almost die from heat, to faint" in the Middle English period. (We would like to take this opportunity to thank Perry Lassiter, and wish him no sultry weather this summer.)
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