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Thursday, October 19, 2017

Emoluments

We'll be seeing and hearing the unusual word "emolument" (almost always used in the plural) a lot more in the next little while, as the question whether Donald Trump has violated the "emoluments clause" in Article I, Section 9 of the American constitution comes before the courts: 
"No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State."
I've always associated this word with the sesquipedalian Mr. Micawber in David Copperfield, who spoke of his (inevitably inadequate) income as his "pecuniary emoluments". 

The word, which entered English from Latin in the late 15th century, has an interesting etymology: originally probably meaning ‘payment to a miller for grinding corn’, from emolere ‘grind up’, from e- (variant of ex-) ‘out, thoroughly’ + molere ‘grind’.

In case you're unsure about the pronunciation, here you go: ee MOLL ya m'ent.




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About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.