Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Maudlin

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

What It Means

Maudlin describes someone or something that expresses sadness or sentimentality in an exaggerated way.

// The class had a hard time taking the maudlin poetry seriously.

MAUDLIN in Context

“All seven musicians in the band complement each other so effortlessly that at times it’s like they all breathe together. The album is often dark, and in the hands of less skilled songwriters could be maudlin and self-indulgent, but I think you can hear just how much fun they have playing together.” — Rob McHugh, The Guardian (London), 3 Jan. 2023

Did You Know?

The history of maudlin is connected both to the Bible and the barroom. The biblical Mary Magdalene is often (though some say mistakenly) identified with the weeping sinner who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears to repent for her sins. This association led to the frequent depiction of Mary Magdalene as a weeping penitent, and even the name Magdalene came to suggest teary emotion to many English speakers. It was then that maudlin, an alteration of Magdalene, appeared in the English phrase “maudlin drunk” in the 16th century, describing a weepy, drunken state. Nowadays, maudlin is used to describe someone or something that expresses sadness or sentimentality in an exaggerated way; however, the “maudlin drunk” meaning was so intoxicating that it stuck around and became the “drunk enough to be emotionally silly” sense still in use today, as in “after a few glasses of port he became quite maudlin.”

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