• emollient •
Pronunciation: i-mahl-yênt • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective, Noun
Meaning: 1. Softening, making supple, moisturizing, soothing, as 'an emollient lotion'. 2. Mollifying, calming, conciliatory, making less abrasive, as 'an emollient approach to a problem'.
Notes: This is an adjective as often used as a noun, referring to emollient balms and moisturizers. Be careful not to confuse today's word with emolument, something that can, in fact, soften the rough patches in our finances. The verb underlying this adjective is emolliate, which allows a regular noun, emollition "act of softening".
In Play: Today's word is most often used as a noun referring to moisturizing agents for dry skin: "Silkskin is the latest moisturizer in a long series of complexion emollients used by an exclusive coterie of aging movie divas." It may be used adjectivally to refer figuratively to any rough situation: "This department needs a senior administrator with a more emollient approach to management."
Word History: This is yet another word taken from French, this time émollient that French had inherited from Latin emollien(t)s, the present participle of emollire "to soften". This word was composed of an assimilated form of ex "out (of)" + mollire "soften", based on mollis "soft". Mollis goes back to Proto-Indo-European mel-/mol- "soft" which produced many English words: melt, meld, smelt malt, mild, and mellow. This was not enough for English, so it borrowed mollify, mollusc from French, and mojito from Spanish. The latter is a diminutive of Spanish mojo "sauce" from mojar "to moisten, to dip", from Vulgar (street) Latin molliare "to soften by wetting". (Today's Good Word was the idea of William Hupy, a long-time and most emollient friend of this series.)