Printable Version
Pronunciation: me-lên-kah-lik Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Sad, gloomy, mournful. 2. Quiet and contemplative, meditative, absorbed in thought.

Notes: Today's Good Word emerged from the imagined ancient humor, black bile. This humor was associated with autumn and the earth, of the four ancient elements, earth, air, fire, and water. It is an adjective from an adjective, for the noun melancholy, on which melancholic is based, may also be used as an adjective, as to receive a melancholy letter from home. Obversely, melancholic may be used as a noun as well as an adjective, as an inveterate melancholic who seldom leaves the house. Melancholically is the appropriate adverb for today's adjective.

In Play: Melancholy refers to a gentle sadness, an almost fuzzy sorrowfulness: "Thoughts about their youth a can make some people a bit melancholic (or melancholy)." However, someone who is given to day-dreaming or more to thinking than to acting may also be described by today's word: "Dennis Schuh has been in melancholic reverie since his basketball team won the state championship."

Word History: Today's Good Word wended its way to English via the usual routes from ancient Greek, where it originated as Greek melankholia. This compound comprises melas, melanos "black" + khole "bile". The name of the dark pigment in human skin is melanin, a word based on the same Greek source. Tomorrow we will discuss khole, so let's examine melas "black" a bit more closely today. The root of this word, mel-, goes back to a Proto-Indo-European root, which originally referred to darkness or dirtiness. Sanskrit mlana- referred to black or a dark color and in Lithuanian we find the same root in melynas "blue". Russian malina means "raspberry", and apparently is based on the same root. In the Germanic languages we see it in old Gothic meljan "to write", but that word apparently did not spread beyond Gothic.

Dr. Goodword,

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