M is for Malodorous

M is for MalodorousMalodorous serves as both a wonderful and offensive word. Wonderful because of how it sounds. The syllables issue forth like a summer river current. It moves slow but will arrive at a particular destination.

The word offends, though, in its meaning. Malodorous is an adjective that primarily means “ill-smelling.” It also refers to “highly improper.” For example, a physician could be called to account by a medical board for his “malodorous” practices.

The word’s synonyms, however, perhaps provide the most entertainment. They include “stinking, fetid, noisome, putrid, rank, fusty, and musty.” Each of those words, in turn, adds or subtracts a level of offense.

Malodorous covers a range, spanning the merely unpleasant to the turning of stomach—a word perfect for the streets of London in the 1880s and 1890s. Putrid, by contrast, implies a smell arising from decaying organic matter. Musty offers another scenario, that of an environment fallen to mildew, dampness, and rot.

Malodorous truly offers some wonderful uses. It, however, is not the only word to begin with “m.” Here are a few others.


Adjective. [French, from (danse) macabre, dance of death. From the Middle French (danse de) macabre.] (1400s) Having death as a subject: comprising or including a personalized representation of death. Dwelling on the gruesome. Tending to produce horror in a beholder. Synonym: see GHASTLY.

(Her tendency toward macabre illustrations and films worried her friends.)


Noun. (1400s) An act of machinating. A scheming or crafty action or artful design intended to accomplish some usually evil end <backstage ~s and power plays that have dominated the film industry—Peter Bogdanovich>. Synonym: see PLOT.

(After his machinations became known at court, the aristocracy shunned his invitations and refused his requests for audience.)


Adjective. (1562) RASH, HOTHEADED.

(Everyone knew his mad-brained ideas would eventually land him in prison or on the end of a rope.)

Mae West

Noun. [Mae West, 1980, American actress noted for her full figure.] (1940) An inflatable life jacket in the form of a collar extending down the chest that was worn by fliers in World War II.

(Many WWII fliers’ lived to fight another day by wearing a Mae West.)


Noun. (1831) A prevailing current or direction of activity or influence. Adjective: mainstream.

Verb transitive. (1974) To place (as a handicapped child) in regular school classes.

(A cultural opinion may be mainstream, but that doesn’t make it right.)


Noun. (c. 1909) Work assigned chiefly to keep one busy.

(Although she appreciated having a job, she hated that it consisted mostly of make-work.)


Noun. [Mrs. Malaprop, character noted for her misuse of words in R. B. Sheridan’s comedy The Rivals (1775).] (1834) A usually humorous misapplication of a word; specifically: the use of a word sounding somewhat like the one intended but ludicrously wrong in the context. MALAPROP. Noun: malapropist.

(Sheridan is known for his use of malapropism, but other writers, including the great bard, deserve recognition. Who, after all, could forget Dogberry’s bumbling of words?)


Verb intransitive. [Probably imitative.] (1621) Dialect, British: GRUMBLE. To wander slowly and idly. To speak indistinctly or disconnectedly. Noun: maunderer.

(No one could discern the senator’s purpose because he maundered every time he got on stage to debate his rival.)

Median Strip

Noun. (1948) A paved or planted strip dividing a highway into lands according to direction of travel.

(As you head toward the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, look closely at the median strip—a section of it contains the historic Davidson-Littlepage Cemetery.)


Noun. (c. 1936) A language used to talk about another language.

(When writers convene, they tend to use a metalanguage to talk about process and other aspects of the writing life.)


Noun. [Wilkins Micawber, character in the novel David Copperfield (1849-50) by Charles Dickens.] (1852) One who is poor but lives in optimist expectation of better fortune. Adjective: micawberish.

(He wholeheartedly believed a fortune awaited him on the next day or the one after that, prompting his mates to nickname him Micawber.)

Monkey Wrench

Noun. (1858) A wrench with one fixed and one adjustable jaw at right angles to a straight handle. Something that disrupts <threw a monkey wrench into the peace negotiations>.

(His news of his engagement threw a monkey wrench into his fan girls’ dreams.)


Adjective. (1593) Subject to depression: GLOOMY. Subject to moods: TEMPERAMENTAL. Expressive of a mood. Adverb: moodily. Noun: moodiness.

(Most parents dread their children becoming teenagers because the age tends to be accompanied by a moody disposition.)


Verb intransitive. [Obsolete, muckrake, noun (rake for dung).] (1910) To search out and publicly expose real or apparent misconduct of prominent individuals. Noun: muckraker.

(The reporter made his living muckraking well-known city officials.)


Noun. (c. 1890) One that uses offensive epithets and invective, especially against a political opponent. Noun: mudslinging.

(Many Americans wish to avoid the electoral season because some politician invariably turns into a mudslinger, and his or her opponents almost always follow suit.)

Murphy Bed

Noun. [William L. Murphy, 1959, American inventor.] (1925) A bed that may be folded or swung into a closet.

(To save space in his economy apartment, Ben installed a Murphy bed.)


Adjective. [Perhaps a blend of muddled and fuzzy.] (1728) Muddled or confused in mind. Lacking in clarity and precision <his conclusion can be ~ and naïve>; deficient in brightness: DULL, GLOOMY <a ~ day>. Adverb: muzzily. Noun: muzziness.

(She was so sensitive to alcohol that it only took a single glass of wine to make her muzzy.)


Noun. (1871) A creator of myths or of mythical situations or lore. Noun: mythmaking.

(Tolkien, Sanderson, Jordan, and Islington serve as examples of mythmakers; they create detailed worlds founded upon unique mythologies.)

What are some of your favorite “m” words? Share them in the comments.

Image: Anne Arnould (Creative Commons)