Word of the Day : December 30, 2013


adjective sap-uh-NAY-shus


: resembling or having the qualities of soap

Did You Know?

"Saponaceous" is a New Latin borrowing by scientists that is based on "sapo," the Latin word for "soap." It describes natural substances, like aloe gel or some plant roots, used in making soap or having the properties of soap. It also describes things that feel or appear soapy-for example, some shales and clays, mica, and certain chemical preparations. In the 19th century, "saponaceous" began to be used for people having a slippery, evasive, or elusive character. One famous example is the elocutionist Bishop Wilberforce mentioned in our second example sentence, whom British politician Benjamin Disraeli described as "unctuous, oleaginous, saponaceous." In The Devil's Dictionary, author Ambrose Bierce uses Disraeli's quote to illustrate the word "oleaginous," noting that "the good prelate was ever afterward known as Soapy Sam."


"When boiled or bruised in water, the leaves turn saponaceous, and the resulting lather cuts through grease." - From an article in Mountain Xpress (Asheville, North Carolina), March 16, 2005 - March 22, 2005

"Wilberforce's smooth and slippery manner had led a contemporary to call him saponaceous, after the adjective from soap." - From an award acceptance speech by British writer Philip Pulman, printed in The Humanist, July 1, 2008

Test Your Memory

What former Word of the Day begins with "l" and can mean "gap" or "inadequacy"? The answer is …


More Words of the Day

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!