What’s the origin of the word ‘mellifluously’?

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: mellifluously…

Every once in a while in this column, I like to focus on a word I already know. Mellifluously falls into that category.

When used in certain contexts, I consider this to be an onomatopoeic word — one that sounds like its meaning. A mellifluous voice, for example, is one that has a rich and fluid sound.

And of course the word has another definition. It also means something that is flowing with or dripping like honey. (Shown in the photo at the top of this post.)

I’ve used the word for years, but never investigated its etymology, until I encountered it in Rachel Cusk’s novel, Outline. Here is how she used the term:

He began to speak mellifluously in Greek, pacing about the small deck and occasionally checking the steering wheel with a finger.

I had initially wondered if perhaps the word was of Greek origin, but no, it’s Latin. In Latin, mel means “honey” and fluere means “to flow.” Late Latin brought them together as mellifluus which in turn came from the Middle English  mellyfluous.

In contemporary times, the word is almost exclusively used with respect to sound.

An earlier version of this post first appeared on my blog on Aug. 28/19.

Scroll to Top