• mordant •
mord-ênt • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Biting, sarcastic, sharp, incisive. 2. Fixing dyes so that they adhere to fabrics they don't like.
Notes: The A in this word is critical for mordent, too, is an English word meaning "a quick melodic ornament of a half tone below the principal tone". Watch your spelling. The adverb is mordantly, but the noun mordancy is considered obsolete. Someone given to biting may be said to be mordacious, a distant cousin of our word today.
In Play: Today mordant has no literal uses, only figurative ones: "Arnold's mordant wit was just too much for Sally Sweetwater." Anything we react to may be mordant: "The latest from the pen of Rhoda Book is a collection of depressively mordant short stories, obviously taken from her own life."
Word History: Today's Good Word still is French mordant "biting", the present participle of mordre "to bite", inherited from Latin mordere "to bite, nip, sting". The Latin verb could be used figuratively to mean "to cause pain, to hurt", which is from an extended sense of PIE root mer-/mor- "to rub away, harm; to die". Mortify, mortal, and mortuary are borrowings all based on Latin mor(t)s "death", which comes from the same PIE word. English murder in Old English was morthor: same source, same meaning. But so is mortar from the same source, from Latin mortarium "mortar", which preserves the sense of "grinding, rubbing down". (We owe our old South African friend Chris Stewart no mordancy, but gratitude that he is still with us, still recommending fascinating Good Words like today's.)
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