In a word: mollify

January 27, 2014|By John E. McIntyre | The Baltimore Sun

Each week The Sun's John McIntyre presents a relatively obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar, another brick to add to the wall of your vocabulary. This week's word: 


"A soft answer turneth away wrath," we're advised in Proverbs. And we have had a word in English for that process since the late fifteenth century. 

Mollify (pronounced MOLL-uh-fie) comes to us from the French mollifer, "to make soft," ultimately from the Latin mollis, "soft."

One of the early senses was the literal "to soften," as in the Oxford English Dictionary's citation from 1555's Decades of Newe Worlde: "These skynnes beinge made verye harde ... they hunge them ... in the sea ... to mollifie them."

But the metaphoric "appease anger" and "pacify" sense was contemporaneous. From a 1560 OED citation: "Ambassadours, whiche might mollifie their myndes & perswade them to peace."

The word also turns up in the sense of "lessen the intensity of." 

Example: From a Guardian headline for a Glenn Greenwald column: "Obama's NSA 'reforms' are little more than a PR attempt to mollify the public." 


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