• malleable •
Pronunciation: mæ-li-ê-bêl • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Soft but firm, capable of being shaped by outside pressure or influence, as a malleable metal or malleable mind. 2. Adaptable, capable of adjusting to changing circumstances.
Notes: The trick to using this word effectively is to remember that it is spelled -eable and not -iable, the more common spelling of words pronounced this way. It is an odd spelling of that suffix. Like all adjectives ending on -able or -ible, the noun is formed by the addition of -ity: malleability.
In Play: This word refers to a substance that is firm but soft enough to be shaped in some way: "When Art Major sat down at the wheel to throw his vase, he found that the clay had dried out and was no longer malleable." However, it also carries the meaning of someone who is easily influenced: "Martin's mind is so malleable, his friends had no difficulty in convincing him that Iraq is in Afghanistan."
Word History: This Good Word came to us via French from Late Latin malleabilis "capable of being hammered into shape". This adjective was derived from the verb malleare "to hammer", a verb made from malleus "hammer", the source of English mallet and maul, the large (sledge) hammer. Mallet and maul were borrowed, but the original Proto-Indo-European root (mol-/mel-) also came to English directly, via Old Germanic, as mill, the instrument for grinding grain, and meal, the output of mills. Latin also used this root in its verb molere "to grind" and the noun mola "mill". The ever-efficient English language borrowed these words, too, for its word molar, the grinding tooth. (We happily admit that we are malleable enough to listen to Susan Lister when she suggests wonderful Good Words like today's.)