Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Mawkish

The Merriam-Webster Word of the Day is mawkish. Read on for what it means, how it’s used, and more.

What It Means

Mawkish means “exaggeratedly or childishly emotional,” and is often used to describe works of art, music, or literature that a critic finds cloying.

// Although Olivia was embarrassed by the mawkish poetry that filled her old high school diaries, she couldn’t bring herself to throw them away.

MAWKISH in Context

“It doesn’t (or shouldn’t) matter that ‘This Is Us’ is a network show in a sea of cable and streaming contenders or that [Mandy] Moore has a pop music and schmaltzy YA movie past. … One of this season’s most poignant moments avoided a mawkish mood because of Moore’s ability to hold our teary gaze through song.” — Emma Fraser, The Daily Beast, 23 May 2022

Did You Know?

Mawkish really opens up a can of worms—or maggots, as it were: the word wriggled out from Middle English mawke, meaning “maggot.” Its earliest sense, used in the late 17th century but now obsolete, was synonymous with squeamish (understandable!) but not long after that mawkish was used to describe an unpleasant, nauseating, often sickeningly sweet flavor. It’s no surprise that a figurative sense of mawkish, used to describe things that are full of “sickly sweet” sentimentality, arose almost concurrently, one of several food texture- and taste-related words favored by critics to show disdain for art they deem overly emotive, including gooey, saccharine, mushy, and schmaltzy.

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