maudlin
adj. Effusively or tearfully sentimental

I have for quite some time been aware of the definition of “maudlin,” and in fact have used it as a pejorative on more than one occasion. Its definition of sappy sentimentality is enough to arouse disgust—I’ve even used it synonymously with “trite.”

Tizian • Büßende Hl. Maria Magdalena

I had no idea, however, that the origins of the word “maudlin” can in fact be traced to Mary Magdalene. It has nothing to do with the etymological origin of “Magdalene,” which was simply an indicator of geographic origin—the word is from the Aramaic Maghdela, a location on Sea of Galilee (the word means “tower”). However, the surname found its way into Old French Madelaine, and into Middle English as Maudelen in the 14th century. For those of you without religious education, Mary Magdalene was the tearful, penitant sinner whom Jesus forgave. So closely intimated was this character with tears that just about every painting of her featured her weeping (see the attached image).

It was from this connection that “maudlin” as meaning “effusively or tearfully sentimental” crept into existence in the first half of the 15th century.

§1797 · April 4, 2007 · Tags: , ·

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