You Don't Say John E. McIntyre writes about language, usage, journalism & arbitrarily chosen subjects.

In a word: marmoreal

The Baltimore Sun

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


Having neglected the word of the week while distracted by other matters, I thought I ought to offer something substantial today: marmoreal.

The word (pronounced mar-MORE-ee-al) means “made of marble” or “suggestive of marble.” It’s a lift from the Latin marmoreus, from marmor, “marble.” We’ve had it in English since the 1650s.

As with many words, that literal “made of marble” sense has taken on broader connotations, so that the word today is often encountered in the sense of “cold” or “aloof,” like a marble statue.

Example: From “Civility” by Clifford Orwin in The American Scholar, Autumn 1991: “The Athenian seeks above all to be remembered, to fashion a glorious marmoreal image of himself to be revered by all posterity, and even though he craves remembrance as an individual, he can gain it only as an individual Athenian, one among many.”

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