unc·​tu·​ous ˈəŋ(k)-chə-wəs How to pronounce unctuous (audio)
: having, revealing, or marked by a smug, ingratiating, and false earnestness or spirituality
: fatty, oily
: smooth and greasy in texture or appearance
: plastic
fine unctuous clay
unctuously adverb
unctuousness noun

Did you know?

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.

Example Sentences

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 Rounding out the group (aside from a wild-card guest) is Lillian (Janet McTeer), an absurdly arrogant restaurant critic, and her unctuous editor (Paul Adelstein). Bill Goodykoontz, The Arizona Republic, 14 Nov. 2022 Despite the Astros’ unctuous past, Houston enters this World Series as a sort of sentimental favorite, thanks to Baker and Baker alone. Sean Gregory, Time, 28 Oct. 2022 The key to creating a vegetarian — or in this case, accidentally vegan — version of the classic was adding a few other ingredients to lend unctuous, meaty flavors that animal fat and protein usually provide. Ben Mimscooking Columnist, Los Angeles Times, 13 Oct. 2022 They were led by Wolfgang Halbig, a 67-year-old retiree who rose to prominence on an unctuous appeal for answers to 16 questions about the massacre. Amanda J. Crawford, BostonGlobe.com, 17 Aug. 2022 It’s smoky and hot and adds an unctuous richness that’s intense yet magnetic. Cesar Hernandez, San Francisco Chronicle, 2 Aug. 2022 Butter or cream of unique quality may be more essential to French cuisine, but many an unctuous sauce withers into insipidity without mustard. New York Times, 14 July 2022 But the anchovies were beguilingly unctuous, almost creamy, with a complex but subtle flavor that the excellent miche—made with malted rye, dense and dark—threatened to overpower. Hannah Goldfield, The New Yorker, 24 June 2022 But this is underselling the unctuous texture, and the brininess, and the strange and compelling savoriness of fish nearly transformed into something else entirely. Helen Rosner, The New Yorker, 13 June 2022 See More

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.

Word History


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

First Known Use

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

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


Dictionary Entries Near unctuous

Cite this Entry

“Unctuous.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/unctuous. Accessed 1 Dec. 2022.

Kids Definition



unc·​tu·​ous ˈəŋ(k)-chə(-wə)s How to pronounce unctuous (audio)
: smooth and greasy like an ointment : oily
: too smooth, polite, and agreeable in speech or manner
unctuously adverb
unctuousness noun

Medical Definition

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

More from Merriam-Webster on unctuous

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