Printable Version
Pronunciation: sêl-tree Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. (Weather) Muggy, oppressively hot and humid, stiflingly hot. 2. (Women) Steamily sexy, seductive, exuding sexuality.

Notes: Given the sultry summer weather in various parts of the world this year, but particularly in the US, we thought today's Good Word would be quite apropos. It comes with a rather awkward sounding adverb, sultrily, and a better noun, sultriness.

In Play: Today's word comes in handy on the stiflingly hot and humid days of midsummer: "Today is so sultry, I'm not sure if I am perspiring or the steam from the plants and people around me is simply collecting on my skin." Of course, this word skidded off course back in the 40s to apply to "steamy" women: "That sultry Lucy Lastik has seduced Matt Tremoni and dashed the hopes of June McBride."

Word History: Today's Good Word arose from a now obsolete verb sulter "to swelter", a variation of swelter. (Swelter also has an adjective sweltery.) [U] and [w] are two sounds that often change into one another over the course of history. The sound [w] has been described as a consonantal variant of [u]. Notice that we pucker our lips when we pronounce either of them. So, before a vowel like E, we would expect the consonant W, as in swelter. Between consonants, though, we would expect the vowel U that we see in sultry. Of course, this doesn't tell us where swelter came from; no one seems to know that. (Let's now thank Jackie Strauss for suggesting today's steamy Good Word and hope she avoids sweltering in the sultry weather many of us are experiencing this summer.)

Dr. Goodword,

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