Merriam Webster Word of the Day: Sallow

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

What It Means

Sallow means “of a grayish greenish yellow color,” and often suggests sickliness.

// She returned from her sick leave still looking a bit sallow.

SALLOW in Context

“As a member of the 101st Airborne Division, Guy Whidden was among the first American paratroopers to head for Normandy in the early hours of June 6, 1944. The day before, he’d posed for a picture with a few of the other paratroopers. Sixty years later, he flashed the same impish grin, though his hair was white and his skin a little sallow.” — Tamela Baker, The Herald-Mail (Hagerstown, Maryland), 25 Sept. 2022

Did You Know?

In Oscar Wilde’s 1891 novel A Picture of Dorian Gray, Dorian’s unscrupulous friend Lord Henry Wotton impresses upon the young Dorian what the process of aging will do, saying “Time is jealous of you, and wars against your lilies and your roses. You will become sallow, and hollow-cheeked, and dull-eyed.” Literature of the 19th century abounds with sallow people—Charles Dickens applied the word to characters in no fewer than 12 novels—but the word had been in use with the same meaning for centuries before that literary heyday. Its synonymous Old English forbear is salu, which shares an ancestor with an Old High German word meaning “murky” as well as with a Russian word meaning “yellowish gray.”

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