Daily Archives: January 29, 2009

mulct

Will a mulct make you feel milked? It might. This word’s pronunciation might make one think of a choking – perhaps you start to say money or much or mulberry and a hand suddenly grabs you under the chin, squeezing as though your head were an udder. But, really, what is this collection of letters and sounds we’re looking at? The overtones include mulch, mull, milk, munch, perhaps words such as cult and clot… It has a pair of voiceless stops at the end, and those after a liquid rather than a vowel, too, so it does rather clot up, as though one had just licked a spoon clean of its almond butter. But where would you hear it? Well, lately, not much of anywhere, it seems; wordcount.org, a ranking in order of frequency of 86,800 words of British English usage, doesn’t have it at all. But older litarature will use it more often, which is fine enough. As is a mulct – often fine more than enough, actually. It comes from a Latin word meaning “fine, penalty,” but has evolved over time, as both noun and verb, to refer most often to an arbitrary, extortionate, deceitful, or at least rather painful fine – or, betimes, the sort of forfeit one has to pay for some infraction of arbitrary college or club rules, the sum of which will be used for the purchase of, say, claret for the general.