The word morose ‘grumpy’ (or, in the more formal words of the OED, ‘sullen, gloomy, sour-tempered, unsocial’) is familiar, but perhaps not so familiar is its derivation; OED (updated December 2002):

Etymology: < classical Latin mōrōsus hard to please, difficult, exacting, pernickety, (of an activity, time of life, etc.) marked by pernicketiness, also as noun denoting a person showing these characteristics < mōr-, mōs manner (see moral adj.) + -ōsus -ose suffix¹. Compare French morose (of a person) gloomy, glum, inclined to dissatisfaction, (of a thing, situation, etc.) dreary, gloomy (1618).

I like very much their use of pernickety (or, as we say on this side of the pond, persnickety). What leads me to post, though, is that I just discovered a far more obscure homonym; OED (updated December 2002):

morose, adj.²
Etymology: < classical Latin morōsus (late 2nd cent. a.d.) < mora delay (see mora n.¹) + -ōsus -ose suffix¹. With sense 1 compare French délectation morose (1863). With sense 2 compare Italian moroso (1686), Spanish moroso (c1580). Compare earlier morous adj., morosous adj.
Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologiae ii. 1. Question 31. Article 2; Question 74. Article 6) uses morosa delectatio as a term already established, and discusses its meaning, connecting it with mora delay and its derivative immorārī to linger upon. Compare Augustine De Civit. Dei xxii. xxiii, Ne in eo quod male delectat vel visio vel cogitatio remoretur (lest sight or thought dwell too long on some evil thing which gives us pleasure).

1. Theology. Of a thought or feeling: wrongly or sinfully prolonged or dwelt upon. Now rare.
morose delectation n. the habit of dwelling with enjoyment upon evil thoughts.
1645 H. Hammond Pract. Catech. ii. vi. 188 All morose thoughts i.e. dwelling or insisting on that image, or phansying of such uncleane matter with delectation.
1655 W. Nicholson Plain Expos. Catech. ii. 123 In this Commandment are forbidden..All that feeds this sin [sc. adultery], or are incentives to it: as..3. Morose thoughts, that dwell on the phansy with delight.

1970 P. O’Brian Master & Commander (new ed.) viii. 254 Indeed, it is not far from morose delectation.

2. Roman Law. Chargeable with undue delay in the assertion of a claim, etc. Cf. mora n.¹ 1. Obsolete. rare.
1875 E. Poste tr. Gaius Institutionum Iuris Civilis (ed. 2) iii. 449 If he is Morose (a debtor chargeable with mora).

Of course, technically I ran across the word when I was reading Master & Commander back in 2011, but how was I to know that “morose delectation” contained a completely different word than the one I knew?


  1. David Eddyshaw says

    I knew this from Latin; it’s a fine example of Eddyshaw’s Law of Latin: “No Latin word actually means the same as the English word transparently derived from it.”

  2. “Phansying of uncleane matter with delectation” sounds so… fancy.

  3. I was vaguely familiar with this sense, although I don’t know from where. I had thought I saw a hint of the alternate meaning in I, Claudius, the way Graves used the word to describe Tiberius, but I may have been reading in too much. There is some Latinate wordplay in I, Claudius, but I suspect less than I remember, actually.

    My uncle Tiberius was one of the bad Claudians. He was morose, reserved and cruel, but there had been three people whose influence had checked these elements in his nature. First there was my father, one of the best Claudians, cheerful, open and generous; next there was Augustus, a very honest, merry, kindly man who disliked Tiberius but treated him generously for his mother’s sake; and lastly there was Vipsania. My father’s influence was removed, or lessened, when they were both of an age to do their military service and were sent on campaign to different parts of the Empire. Then came the separation from Vipsania, and this was followed by a coolness with Augustus, who was offended by my uncle’s ill-concealed distaste for Julia. With these three influences removed he gradually went all together to the bad.

  4. I encountered “morose delectation” while browsing my father’s small stock of Catholic apologetics. At intervals since it has floated into my consciousness, and I have wondered whether I was misremembering the phrase, since “morose” didn’t seem quite apropos. I thought it might really be “morbid delectation”, which conflation with “morbid curiosity” I find, having just now finally googled it, that others have also made. My mental software had one of those minor highly intermittent bugs that is only ever fixed by accident.

  5. My uncle Tiberius was one of the bad Claudians. He was morose, reserved and cruel

    I don’t think there’s any way that could be the word I’m posting about; it’s the standard ‘grumpy’ meaning.

  6. J.W. Brewer says

    I can’t say I’m familiar with the phrase “morose delectation” but I guess I’m not much of a reader of old-timey Vatican catechisms other than indirectly — like if there was a bit in a work by James Joyce where he really riffed on that phrase I might have recalled it, but I don’t so perhaps there isn’t. FWIW the google n-gram viewer confirms my sense that “delectable” is (and has been for a long time) a substantially more commonly-used word than the obviously-related “delectation.” I think I probably have a larger active lexicon than 98-99% of L1 speakers of AmEng and I can’t be certain that “delectation” (even without the “morbid” qualifier) is a word I’ve ever actually uttered. OTOH, I can off the top of my head recall a Rolling Stones song whose lyrics contain “delectable” (even if only because they needed a rhyme for “respectable”).

  7. J.W. Brewer says

    Wait, hold on. Can it really be the case that those barbarous foreigners across the ocean omit the /s/ in “persnickety”? Well I never.

  8. David Eddyshaw says

    No, no! My dear fellow! Quite the contrary! The barbarous foreigners across the ocean insert a perfectly inorganic /s/ in “pernickety.”

    (We must not be too hard on them. They have not had our advantages.)

  9. January First-of-May says

    I’m not sure what is the actual meaning of “morose”, but for me it always had the connotation of “cold, chilly” (as in “unemotional, unfriendly”), due to contamination with (apparently unrelated) Russian мороз “frost”.
    (TBH it seems like it’s not that far off, but the contamination makes it hard to tell the authentic shades of meaning.)

    As for per(s)nickety, Wiktionary says that both forms are attested in the original Scots, and doesn’t mention which is older. But the only version that I had been previously familiar with is the US one.

  10. @languagehat: I think it was something about the juxtaposition with “cruel”—and perhaps also Derek Jacobi’s* intonation in the book on tape version that I had—that brought that sense to mind for me. But yes, I was undoubtedly reading (or hearing) too much into it.

    * Naturally! Who else would record the taped versions of I, Claudii\us and Claudius the God?

  11. Mora in phonology: a sort of delay, directly from the Latin.
    Moratorium: a delay.
    Another mōror (related to μωρός, and therefore to moron) means to be foolish.
    “Morituri te salutant.” “Those who are about to be so stupid as die may soon get around to saluting you.”
    Ah, Latin. So terse.

  12. = “… as to die”
    I really do suffer from a kind of word-level lipography. It was of sudden and distressing onset some years ago, and it seems incurable.

  13. David Eddyshaw says

    Today’s Guardian crossword has for 21 across:

    Moody leader in Claudius in 10?

    Morphic resonance strikes again …

  14. So morose is one of those words, like sanction and cleave, that have two meanings, one the opposite of the other.

  15. My favourite is ‘egregious’, which means “bad”, but sometimes “good”.

  16. My favourite is “God knows”

  17. Stu Clayton says

    If he is Morose (a debtor chargeable with mora).

    I have encountered that, but could not have located it in my memorial rhizome without a Spickzettel such as that quote.

  18. John Cowan says

    Can it really be the case […]

    No, no! My dear fellow! Quite the contrary!

    Spinach, my dear fellows both! It is neither more nor less than s mobile.

  19. @David Eddyshaw: Care to explain how to get the answer from that?

  20. I too am curious.

  21. so … morose is related to “moral” and “mores” but “moron”‘s not related, right? or “oxymoron”?

  22. AG:

    I believe oxy and moron are both Greek. oxy meaning “sharp” and moron meaning “blunt”.

    So “oxygen” is something that makes you sharp, and an “oxymoron” is something that is both sharp and blunt.

    Not particularly related to the other discussions about Latin.

  23. David Marjanović says

    Fun with o and ō!

    “oxygen” is something that makes you sharp

    Not you – it turns the things it burns into acids if you add water. Sometimes. Carbonic, nitric, phosphoric and sulfuric acid are the simplest examples: H₂CO₃, HNO₃, H₃PO₄, H₂SO₄. And while hydrochloric acid (HCl) is one of the ugly facts that soon slew the beautiful hypothesis that all acids contain oxygen, hypochloric (HOCl), chlorous (HClO₂) chloric (HClO₃) and perchloric (HClO₄) acids are acidic, too.

  24. PlasticPaddy says

    So reaction is something like
    2C2 + 4O2 + 2H2O + lots of heat => 2H2CO3 +2CO2. If this is not too stupid a question, can you say why would this be preferred to 2C2 + 4O2 + maybe even less heat => 4CO2?

  25. “Care to explain how to get the answer from that?”

    I imagine 10 is 10 across or 10 down as the case may be, so it is hard to solve 21 across without the answer to 10.

  26. January First-of-May says

    If this is not too stupid a question, can you say why would this be preferred to 2C2 + 4O2 + maybe even less heat => 4CO2?

    I vaguely recall this reaction presented in two stages; the first is the form above (which can happen in absence of water), the second is 2CO2 + 2H2O + some condition I don’t recall offhand => 2H2CO3, and is said to be why carbonated water tastes a little sour.

    I imagine 10 is 10 across or 10 down as the case may be, so it is hard to solve 21 across without the answer to 10.

    I thought 10 was the letter count, but I don’t know the terminology well enough to be sure.

  27. The sourness is a third reaction, and the one that actually shows carbonic acid to be an acid: H₂CO₃ + H₂O → HCO₃⁻ + H₃O⁺ (monohydrogen carbonate anion + hydronium cation). Though pure carbonic acid is sufficiently unstable of a molecule that, rather, this and the 2nd are usually condensed into one: CO₂ + 2 H₂O → HCO₃⁻ + H₃O⁺. Most of the carbon of carbonated water exists either as dissolved CO₂ or as hydrogen carbonate.

    Under most conditions also, negative amounts of heat “as input” in these.

  28. David Marjanović says

    What J said; I only have to add that C₂ molecules exist only at insanely high temperatures (or in a vacuum), so carbon in presentations of chemical reactions is just written “C” like a metal, and whether you get only CO₂ or also some amount of the acid depends simply on whether water is present.

    …also, H₃O⁺ ions don’t really exist much; rather, the responsibility for the rogue H⁺ is shared among four inner and IIRC eight outer H₂O, uh, units. But there’s rarely a need to complicate the presentation of a reaction with that.

  29. David Eddyshaw says

    Care to explain how to get the answer from that?

    Sorry, I just noticed your comment.

    The answer to 10 across is indeed needed in order to proceed: it’s “Hamlet.” The answer has eight letters.

  30. For some reason, I always thought this word meant “sleepy, low-energy, hard to get a reaction out of”. Must have just picked it up from context but got it slightly wrong…

    Then again, do we have a word that means that?

  31. F: “Stupid”, in its old sense of “stuporous”.

  32. PlasticPaddy says

    Sluggish? Torpid?

  33. David Eddyshaw says

    “Stolid”, maybe.

  34. Tum demum ingemuit corvi deceptus stupor.

    He who crows with cheese in his craw has been outfoxed.

  35. January First-of-May says

    Не стойте и не прыгайте, не пойте, не пляшите
    Там, где идёт строительство или подвешен груз!

    (from the conclusion, and moral, of Plasticine Crow)

  36. ktschwarz says

    pernickety (or, as we say on this side of the pond, persnickety)

    Published by David Crystal in 2015:
    Making a point: the pernickety story of English punctuation, Profile Books (London)
    Making a point: the persnickety story of English punctuation, St. Martin’s Press (New York)


    January First-of-May: Wiktionary says that both forms are attested in the original Scots, and doesn’t mention which is older.

    Wiktionary links to DSL: pernicketie, which has one citation of persnickety from 1926. That’s about a hundred years after the earliest citations without the s, from the early 1800s. OED has the spelling with the s labeled North American, with an earliest citation from 1885 in Ohio. Could the 1926 citation show North American influence? Seems very likely: it’s by Scottish-born author Lorna Moon, who had moved to Canada by 1908 and was a Hollywood screenwriter in the 1920s when she published a collection of stories set in Scotland based on her memories.

    I’d say Wiktionary is wrong in attributing the s version directly to Scots, and all other dictionaries are right in saying that it’s an alteration within North American English.

Speak Your Mind