Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Dolorous

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

What It Means

Dolorous means “causing, marked by, or expressing misery or grief.”

// The acerbic and dolorous writings of Charles Bukowski garnered praise among lovers of poetry depicting the lives of the downtrodden in American society.

DOLOROUS in Context

“Having haunted arenas longer than some ghosts haunt cathedrals, the Cure have their live sound down to a towering tee. … Featherlight guitar filigrees land like hammers, dolorous synth string drones rumble from the deep. [Robert] Smith’s agelessly yearning and yelping vocals, his lyrics steeped in suburban ennui and true love against the big, bad world, are the voice of the eternal moody teen.” — Malcolm Jack, The Guardian (London), 5 Dec. 2022

Did You Know?

If you’ve ever studied a Romance language, you’ve likely run into words related to Latin dolor, meaning “pain” or “grief.” Indeed, Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, and Romanian all refer to pain using descendants of dolor. English (which despite its many Latinate terms is categorized as a Germanic language) has dolor to thank for dolorous. When the word first appeared, it was linked to physical pain; as the British surgeon John Banister wrote in 1578, “No medicine may prevail … till the same dolorous tooth be … plucked up by the roots.” The “causing pain” sense of dolorous coexisted with the “sorrowful” sense for centuries, but (to the dolor, perhaps, of some) its use is now rare.

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