Printable Version
Pronunciation: myu-lee-eb-rê-tee Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass

Meaning: 1. Womanhood, the state of being an adult woman. 2. Womanliness, femininity, the qualities generally associated with women, as opposed to virility.

Notes: This often ignored word packs two adjectives; muliebral simply means "feminine" while muliebrious meant "effeminate" on the two or three occasions it was used in the 17th century. Still, it inhabits the grand old Oxford English Dictionary, which legitimizes its continued (or renewed) use today. Do not confuse today's Good Word with mulierosity, which refers to a fondness for women, according to Daniel Webster.

In Play: We might think of Martha Stewart as a muliebrity celebrity inasmuch as her fame rests on instructions on how to do womanly things. We have to be careful using this word around men: "The way Marvin curls his pinky when he holds a coffee cup betrays a certain muliebrity that doesn't recommend him for the job as bouncer at the bar." Marvin may seem a bit muliebrious for a tough guy's job.

Word History: No matter how obstinate your wife or girlfriend may be, guys, this word has nothing to do with mules or mulishness. Don't even think about going there. Muliebrity was borrowed from Latin muliebritas "womanhood, womanliness", a noun based on mulier "woman", which went on to become Portuguese mulher and Spanish mujer "woman", as well as Italian moglie "wife". Mulier actually came from the same source as English mill at a time when women were the millers in the family. This word was muliesi "the finest, softest" at some point before Latin completely formed. The original PIE word descended into the Slavic languages, producing Russian molot' "to grind", and into the Germanic languages. where it produced German Mehl "flour", Mahl "meal", and Müller "miller" and English meal amd miller. Apparently, mulier goes back to a word meaning "the finest grind or ground." (Today our gratitude is owed the quite virile Eric Berntson for suggesting we examine this womanly word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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