In a word: emolument

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 number of observers have questioned whether President-elect Donald Trump’s wide-ranging business interests might violate the “emoluments clause” of the United States Constitution, which says in Article I, “No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”

An emolument (pronounced ee-MAHL-yoo-mint) is a gain, either in money or perks, from one’s employment, a wage or fee.

It is an old word in English, as this note at explains: “To Sir Thomas Williams Person of the Parish ... of Saint Andrew at Baynards Castle in London for his yearly pension 40 shillings ... in recompense of certain offerings, oblations, and emoluments unto the said benefice due....” Thus was recorded in ‘The Wardrobe Accounts of Edward the Fourth,’ along with every expense of the realm, the first ever known use of ‘emolument.’ By the year 1480, when that entry was made, Latin emolumentum had come to mean simply ‘profit’ or ‘gain’; it had become removed from its own Latin predecessor, the verb molere, meaning ‘to grind.’ The original connection between the noun and this verb was its reference to the profit or gain from grinding another's grain. (The notion of grinding away at our jobs didn't show up in our language until the 1800s.)”

Example: From “Field of Screams” by Christopher Buckley in Forbes, November 2003: “I rubbed my chin and raised my eyebrows as if to say, ‘Kim, old shoe, you have handed me the veritable mother of all challenges here, but I'm willing to give it my all, in return for half the money in the North Korean treasury.’ Mr. Kim correctly interpreted this as the signal for the emolument. He reached into a drawer and took out an agreeably thick brown envelope, sliding it across the desk.”

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