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mor·​dant ˈmȯr-dᵊnt How to pronounce mordant (audio)
: biting and caustic in thought, manner, or style : incisive
a mordant wit
: acting as a mordant (as in dyeing)
: burning, pungent
mordant pain
mordantly adverb


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: a chemical that fixes a dye in or on a substance by combining with the dye to form an insoluble compound
: a corroding substance used in etching


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mordanted; mordanting; mordants

transitive verb

: to treat with a mordant

Did you know?

The etymology of mordant certainly has some bite to it. That word, which came to modern English through Middle French, ultimately derives from the Latin verb mordēre, which means "to bite." In modern parlance, mordant usually suggests a wit that is used with deadly effectiveness. Mordēre puts the bite into other English terms, too. For instance, that root gave us the tasty morsel ("a tiny bite"). But nibble too many of those and you'll likely be hit by another mordēre derivative: remorse ("guilt for past wrongs"), which comes from Latin remordēre, meaning "to bite again."

Choose the Right Synonym for mordant

caustic, mordant, acrid, scathing mean stingingly incisive.

caustic suggests a biting wit.

caustic comments

mordant suggests a wit that is used with deadly effectiveness.

mordant reviews of the play

acrid implies bitterness and often malevolence.

acrid invective

scathing implies indignant attacks delivered with fierce severity.

a scathing satire

Examples of mordant in a Sentence

Adjective a writer famous for her mordant humor a mordant review of the movie that compared it to having one's teeth pulled for two hours
Recent Examples on the Web
But Davies’s artistry always provides emotional clarity — as in the devastating final tableaux of The House of Mirth (a mordant still-life) and The Long Day Closes (a cosmic celestial pageant). Armond White, National Review, 11 Oct. 2023 Gore resisted self-pity by projecting mordant good humor. David Remnick, The New Yorker, 6 Oct. 2023 The answer can be found in the book’s evocative quotes, alternately mordant and macabre, many of which come from the photographer’s grandmother. Devorah Lev-Tov Zoey Poll Caitie Kelly Devorah Lev-Tov Elinor Hitt Jinnie Lee, New York Times, 5 Oct. 2023 Everything that’s matchless about Raban’s work — his hyperacute eye for detail, his powers of synthesis, his mordant sense of humor, his vast reservoirs of knowledge and his love of travel — is there. Mary Ann Gwinn, Los Angeles Times, 19 Sep. 2023 But after decades of wildly varying success attempting to stretch beyond his signature auto-fictions, the director reverts to the mordant memoir style of the film that first brought him to the French festival in 1993, Dear Diary. David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter, 24 May 2023 That turn of phrase turned unexpectedly mordant this morning when the 59-year-old Long Islander was arrested in connection with the series of murders in and around Gilgo Beach a decade ago. Curbed, 14 July 2023 But this isn’t really a thriller so much as an IV pole on which Hornsby can hang a steady drip of mordant commentary on punk music, Silicon Valley and the corrosive effects of dynastic wealth. Ron Charles, Washington Post, 4 July 2023 Over recent weeks, people have chronicled their symptoms on social media, often in a tone of mordant resignation. Chris Buckley,, 27 May 2023
Thus begins the most elaborate conceit of the script by Scottish TV writer Neil Forsyth, as a mordant running conversation between the two Becketts — one self-recriminating, the other more archly ironic — frames and introduces the various stages of his past. Guy Lodge, Variety, 1 Oct. 2023 Particularly well served by the writers are Doi, the resident mordant wit, and Donovan as the doofus — in Kutcher’s old job, basically. Robert Lloydtelevision Critic, Los Angeles Times, 18 Jan. 2023 Come for the crying and masturbating and post-split Tinder roundelays; stay for the mordant, messy wit that lights up nearly every page. Leah Greenblatt,, 13 Jan. 2023 The actors are nimble with Letts’ mordant, deceptively situational humor, and in embodying their characters’ chilling complacency. Naveen Kumar, Variety, 17 Apr. 2022 Loudon, 70-something patriarch, inhabits the canopy; from folkie to singing surgeon to some measure of each, adjoining the mordant to the serious. Nathan Rizzo | For The Oregonian/oregonlive, oregonlive, 1 Nov. 2021 But Stewart’s take on Diana gives this film a wicked sense of humor too, emphasizing how her mordant sarcasm clashed just as uncomfortably with the royal family as her independent streak did. David Sims, The Atlantic, 25 Sep. 2021 But another three words, albeit unspoken, also pulse beneath this mordant and inventive satire by James Ijames: Examine your assumptions., 1 May 2021 Petite, quietly savage, with a sense of humor that can skew either goofy or mordant, Milioti, 35, is not the girl next door. New York Times, 26 Mar. 2021 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'mordant.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Adjective and Noun

Middle French, present participle of mordre to bite, from Latin mordēre; perhaps akin to Sanskrit mṛdnāti he presses, rubs

First Known Use


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1791, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1836, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of mordant was in the 15th century


Dictionary Entries Near mordant

Cite this Entry

“Mordant.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 30 Nov. 2023.

Kids Definition


: sarcastic, biting
mordant criticism

Medical Definition


mor·​dant ˈmȯrd-ᵊnt How to pronounce mordant (audio)
: a chemical that fixes a dye in or on a substance by combining with the dye to form an insoluble compound
mordant transitive verb

More from Merriam-Webster on mordant

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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