mercurial

adjective
mer·​cu·​ri·​al | \ (ˌ)mər-ˈkyu̇r-ē-əl How to pronounce mercurial (audio) \

Definition of mercurial

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : of, relating to, or born under the planet Mercury
2 : having qualities of eloquence, ingenuity, or thievishness attributed to the god Mercury or to the influence of the planet Mercury
3 : characterized by rapid and unpredictable changeableness of mood a mercurial temper
4 : of, relating to, containing, or caused by mercury

mercurial

noun

Definition of mercurial (Entry 2 of 2)

: a pharmaceutical or chemical containing mercury

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Other Words from mercurial

Adjective

mercurially \ (ˌ)mər-​ˈkyu̇r-​ē-​ə-​lē How to pronounce mercurially (audio) \ adverb
mercurialness noun

Choose the Right Synonym for mercurial

Adjective

inconstant, fickle, capricious, mercurial, unstable mean lacking firmness or steadiness (as in purpose or devotion). inconstant implies an incapacity for steadiness and an inherent tendency to change. an inconstant friend fickle suggests unreliability because of perverse changeability and incapacity for steadfastness. performers discover how fickle fans can be capricious suggests motivation by sudden whim or fancy and stresses unpredictability. an utterly capricious critic mercurial implies a rapid changeability in mood. made anxious by her boss's mercurial temperament unstable implies an incapacity for remaining in a fixed position or steady course and applies especially to a lack of emotional balance. too unstable to hold a job

Did You Know?

Adjective

The Roman god Mercury ("Mercurius" in Latin) was the messenger and herald of the gods and also the god of merchants and thieves. (His counterpart in Greek mythology is Hermes.) He was noted for his eloquence, swiftness, and cunning, and the Romans named what appeared to them to be the fastest-moving planet in his honor. The Latin adjective derived from his name, mercurialis, meaning "of or relating to Mercury," was borrowed into English in the 14th century as "mercurial." Although the adjective initially meant "born under the planet Mercury," it came to mean also "having qualities of eloquence, ingenuity, or thievishness attributed to the god Mercury or the influence of the planet Mercury," and then "unpredictably changeable."

Examples of mercurial in a Sentence

Adjective

Few moments in English history have been more hungry for the future, its mercurial possibilities and its hope of richness, than the spring of 1603. — Adam Nicolson, God's Secretaries, 2003 Though you could see all three places in one day, each of them makes you want to stay or to keep returning to watch the effects of the changing weather and the mercurial Sicilian light. — Francine Prose, Atlantic, December 2002 Some scientists suggest that because manic-depressive patients are ever riding the bio-chemical express between emotional extremes, their brains end up more complexly wired and remain more persistently plastic than do the brains of less mercurial sorts. — Natalie Angier, New York Times, 12 Oct. 1993 Still grinning, still miming, he samba-ed across the floor … and started in on the dishes with a vigor that would have prostrated his mercurial cousin. — T. Coraghessan Boyle, Harper's, October 1987 the boss's mood is so mercurial that we never know how he's going to react to anything
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Recent Examples on the Web: Adjective

There’s a breakdown scene midway through, when Virginia becomes unmoored by the mercurial Vita’s inattentions, that is both quiet and frightening: Debicki shows us a desperate woman’s mind grinding to a halt. Ty Burr, BostonGlobe.com, "In ‘Vita & Virginia,’ literary imagination meet real-life love," 4 Sep. 2019 Leicester City's mercurial playmaker James Maddison is in line for his international debut this week having been called up to Southgate's squad, along with fellow Three Lions newbie Mason Mount. SI.com, "England vs Bulgaria Preview: Where to Watch, Buy Tickets, Live Stream, Kick Off Time & Team News," 4 Sep. 2019 The mercurial Raiders receiver was the thread that tied Tuesday’s episode together. Michael Nowels, The Mercury News, "‘Hard Knocks’ awards: Antonio Brown delivers tour-de-force performance," 21 Aug. 2019 The Raiders’ mercurial wide receiver skipped practice Sunday after the NFL rejected his latest helmet choice. oregonlive.com, "Oakland Raiders’ GM: ’It’s time for (Antonio Brown) to be all-in or all-out’," 19 Aug. 2019 Just like real-life teens, the lives of Lexi (Maude Apatow), Maddy (Alexa Demie), Kat (Barbie Ferreira) and Cassie (Sydney Sweeney) are filled with a galaxy of music to match their mercurial moods. Gil Kaufman, Billboard, "Every Song Featured On Season 1 Of 'Euphoria'," 6 Aug. 2019 Think the mercurial Phil Mickelson, or Rory McIlroy. Rob Hodgetts, CNN, "Tiger Woods misses Open cut, yearns for 'hot weeks'," 19 July 2019 Back in 2015, when the Cavaliers were underachieving and weighing a potential trade for the mercurial shooting guard, there were warnings. Chris Fedor, cleveland.com, "JR Smith’s legacy with Cleveland Cavaliers is…complicated: Chris Fedor," 16 July 2019 Still, oddsmakers placed Houston's chances of landing the mercurial guard behind the Heat, Pistons and yes, even the dysfunctional Knicks. Peter Dawson, Houston Chronicle, "Rockets big trade: Everything you need to know about Russell Westbrook, including how to stop hating," 12 July 2019

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'mercurial.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of mercurial

Adjective

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Noun

1676, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for mercurial

Adjective

see mercury

Noun

see mercury

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Statistics for mercurial

Last Updated

7 Sep 2019

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Time Traveler for mercurial

The first known use of mercurial was in the 14th century

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More Definitions for mercurial

mercurial

adjective

English Language Learners Definition of mercurial

: changing moods quickly and often
: changing often : very changeable
: very lively and quick

mercurial

adjective
mer·​cu·​ri·​al | \ (ˌ)mər-ˈkyu̇r-ē-əl How to pronounce mercurial (audio) \

Medical Definition of mercurial

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: of, relating to, containing, or caused by mercury mercurial salves

mercurial

noun

Medical Definition of mercurial (Entry 2 of 2)

: a pharmaceutical or chemical containing mercury the diuretic action of mercurials

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More from Merriam-Webster on mercurial

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with mercurial

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for mercurial

Spanish Central: Translation of mercurial

Nglish: Translation of mercurial for Spanish Speakers

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recurring in steady succession

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