Printable Version
Pronunciation: me-low Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Soft, ripe and pleasant, as 'mellow fruit'. 2. Mild, smooth, muted, not harsh, as 'a mellow wine' or 'a mellow song'. 3. Gentle and understanding, 'a mellow friend'.

Notes: Today's Good Word is an adjective that has old-fashioned Germanic comparatives: mellower and mellowest. Of course, if you want to present a modern face you may say more mellow and most mellow. This word may be used as a verb meaning "to become mellow", as 'to mellow in your attitude toward tats'. In US slang of the 60s it was used as a noun that meant "mellow mood" or "close friend of the opposite sex". In the same time frame, a mellow yellow was a banana peel smoked to get high.

In Play: The basic meaning of today's Good Word referred mostly to fruit: "I'm afraid your bananas are a bit too mellow; they're all black." However, that sense has spread metaphorically pretty widely: "Phil Anders' attitude toward women became noticeably mellower after June McBride pushed him out of her car."

Word History: In Old English this word was melwe "soft, sweet, juicy" (of ripe fruit), somehow related to melowe, an oblique case of mele "edible part of grain, fruit of grain", becoming "ground grain". The origin seems to be bound up with PIE mel- "grind, crush", found in (corn) meal, mill, melt, German Mehl "meal", Latin mola "mill, Dutch malen "grind", Serbian mleti "grind, and Russian molot' "grind". Ground foods tend to be mellow in the original sense of mellow (No. 1 above); however, the semantic distance between mellow and grind is pretty great with no single, uninterrupted path getting us from one point to the other. The distance is extended by maelstrom from early modern Dutch maelstrom (now maalstroom) "whirlpool", comprising malen "to grind, whirl" + strom "stream". (A word of gratitude is now owed Joakim Larsson, a mellow fellow from Sweden who reads a lot in English and recommended today's Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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