unc·​tu·​ous | \ ˈəŋ(k)-chə-wəs How to pronounce unctuous (audio) , -chəs, -shwəs \

Definition of unctuous

1 : having, revealing, or marked by a smug, ingratiating, and false earnestness or spirituality
2a : fatty, oily
b : smooth and greasy in texture or appearance
3 : plastic fine unctuous clay

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Other Words from unctuous

unctuously adverb
unctuousness noun

Is unctuous positive or negative?

Nowadays, unctuous usually has a negative connotation, but it originated as a term describing a positive act, that of healing. The word comes from the Latin verb unguere ("to anoint"), a root that also gave rise to the words unguent ("a soothing or healing salve") and ointment. The oily nature of ointments may have led to the application of unctuous to describe things marked by an artificial gloss of sentimentality. An unctuous individual may mean well, but his or her insincere earnestness can leave an unwelcome residue with others, much like some ointments.

Examples of unctuous in a Sentence

an unctuous effort to appear religious to the voters an unctuous appraisal of the musical talent shown by the boss's daughter
Recent Examples on the Web The bone is roasted until the marrow takes on the unctuous, semi-gelatinous texture of high-fat, room temperature butter, while the chimichurri keeps each bite from feeling overwhelmingly rich. Soleil Ho, San Francisco Chronicle, "Oakland's Sobre Mesa is a dining paradise fit for a new 'Top Chef' player," 1 Apr. 2021 More contemporary versions of vegetarian chopped liver tend to use fresher ingredients but follow the same ingredient-layering approach to mimic the unctuous texture and savory-sweet flavor of the original. Leah Koenig, Bon Appétit, "I Love Chopped Liver—and This Vegetarian Version Is Even Better," 26 Mar. 2021 Slowly braised, the meat becomes tender and unctuous, while the liquid is enriched with the marrow from the shank bone. Cosmo Genova, Field & Stream, "The 5 Most Common Wild Game Cooking Misktakes (And How to Fix Them)," 24 Feb. 2021 At Kenny & Ziggy’s, deli maven Ziggy Gruber has created a hearty bowl of liquid comfort via his pelmeni soup in which earthy dumplings stuffed with chicken and porcini mushrooms float in an unctuous bath of schmaltzy broth. Joanna O'leary, Chron, "Houston's best takes on chicken soup for your post-freeze soul," 23 Feb. 2021 The dough has been turbo-boosted with sugar to rise quickly, and an unctuous sea of cheese and meat has been piled atop rubbery underdone or brittle overdone crusts, sometimes occurring in the same pizza. Francesco Lastrucci, Smithsonian Magazine, "Inside Naples’ World-Famous Pizza Culture," 20 Feb. 2021 Chicken adobo is best served over rice or any whole grain that sops up the unctuous sauce. Beth Dooley Special To The Star Tribune, Star Tribune, "Chicken adobo gives taste buds a wake-up call," 27 Jan. 2021 And so goading him into anger took on an unctuous, dangerous pleasure. Rachel Epstein, Marie Claire, "'Detransition, Baby' Is Our February Book Club Pick," 25 Jan. 2021 While this unctuous fluid has plenty of things in its favor, there is a dark side to it. Tim Macwelch, Outdoor Life, "Let’s Cut The B.S. Around Bone Broth. Here’s What it is and How to Make it Yourself," 30 Sep. 2020

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'unctuous.' 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 unctuous

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 2a

History and Etymology for unctuous

Middle English, from Middle French or Medieval Latin; Middle French unctueus, from Medieval Latin unctuosus, from Latin unctus act of anointing, from unguere to anoint

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

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Last Updated

28 Apr 2021

Cite this Entry

“Unctuous.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/unctuous. Accessed 10 May. 2021.

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More Definitions for unctuous



English Language Learners Definition of unctuous

formal + disapproving used to describe someone who speaks and behaves in a way that is meant to seem friendly and polite but that is unpleasant because it is obviously not sincere


unc·​tu·​ous | \ ˈəŋ(k)-chə(-wə)s, ˈəŋ(k)sh-wəs How to pronounce unctuous (audio) \

Medical Definition of unctuous

: rich in oil or fat : fatty an unctuous pharmaceutical preparation

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