• unctuous •
êngk-chuwês • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Overly charming and ingratiating, feigning sincerity, uncomfortably suave and genteel in behavior. 2. Oily, fatty, greasy, rich (food). 3. Rich in nutrients (soil).
Notes: Today's good and slippery word comes with three 'U's and two nouns, unctuosity and unctuousness. We can speak and behave unctuously (the adverb), and some of us do. Remember the three 'U's and do not to slip into the habit of misspelling this word unctious.
In Play: Today this word is used primarily in its first, metaphorically oily sense: "I was very uncomfortable as one unctuous word after another slithered through Nick O'Lodian's lips." However, the other meanings remain available for all occasions: "The lips of May O'Naise were unctuous from all the morsels of barbeuce that had passed through them over the course of the meal."
Word History: Today's Good Word came via Old French unctueus from Latin unctus, the past participle of the verb unguere "to anoint, to oil". Remnants of it today remain in French onctueux and Portuguese, Italian and Spanish untuoso. The same root turned up in Sanskrit anakti "to anoint, smear", but we find nothing similar in Germanic languages. Some etymologists think that Latin might have borrowed unguere from an Old Germanic word anke "butter", which is no longer around, but unt it the Romanian word for "butter". The Latin word for "ointment", unguentum, became oignement in French, which English borrowed as ointment. But that didn't prevent us from borrowing the same word directly from Latin, too, as unguent "salve". (Without sounding unctuous in the least, we would like to thank Jan Arps of Greensboro, NC, for anointing our series with today's very Good Word.)
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