Who does not love a touch of opulence now and then? To lie back on flocculent cushions in a luculent, florulent, aurulent room, eat succulent fruit, and become, glass by glass, gloriously temulent? If only one might not thereby become crapulent (not to say flatulent) and corpulent.
But such is the nature of riches. What seems opulent may be fraudulent. Too much enrichment can turn cinerulent and pulverulent. Who is temulent will become truculent and stridulent, even violent; what was luculent becomes lutulent; the puberulent takes on the aspect of the purulent; in the end the esculent is feculent. U lent your dignity and discretion to time, and may have gotten some interest in return, but at the last it is frustulent.
Well, it doesn’t have to be that way, but do be careful. Exceptional riches – and their manifestations – are by nature an imbalance, even if one we seek to preserve. We use opulent nowadays mostly to speak of ostentation, glamour, shameless diamond-dripping luxury (though ideally not fugxury), but its origin is wealth itself, not the optics thereof. When James Madison, advocating a senate for the United States of America, said “They ought to be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority,” he meant that the senate should exist to check the possibility of rich landowners against having their wealth seized by the much larger number who worked the land – that is to say, who produced what “the man who is possessed of wealth, who lolls on his sofa or rolls in his carriage,” enjoys.
And thereby hangs the duality of the root of opulent. It traces to Latin ops, ‘power, resources, wealth’, which is an etymological sibling to opus ‘work, labour’. They both trace back to a Proto-Indo-European verb root meaning ‘work, produce in abundance’. Of course if you work hard and produce in abundance and keep the fruits of your labour, your life will be opulent. If, on the other hand, you work hard and keep only a portion of the fruits of your labour, while much of the rest goes to someone who gets a similar share of the work of many others, your opus will produce their ops.
In the real world, it’s not generally so simple as all that, of course. You might take home less than half the value you produce and yet at the same time have investments that earn interest through labour not your own. You probably have a well-furnished lifestyle within your means because of the less-well-compensated work of others in other countries. Opulence is relative, too: what seems like mere middle-classery to one person in one place could be opulent indeed to someone from another background.
And some wealth is not the fruit of labour at all but just the wild abundance of happenstance. For instance, the Latin suffix –ulent, meaning ‘abounding in’ or ‘full of’ (to use the OED’s definitions), appears on an opulent assortment of words, a lexical chocolate box. Among others, there are aurulent ‘gold coloured’, cinerulent ‘ashy, full of ashes’, corpulent ‘of or relating to a physical body, especially in great mass’, crapulent ‘suffering from excessive consumption’, esculent ‘edible’, feculent ‘made of or full of feces’, flatulent ‘windy, gassy’, flocculent ‘like tufts of wool’, florulent ‘abounding in flowers’, fraudulent ‘fake’, frustulent ‘full of small pieces’, luculent ‘bright, full of light’, lutulent ‘muddy’, puberulent ‘slightly downy’, pulverulent ‘dusty’, purulent ‘like or containing pus’, stridulent ‘shrill, grating’, succulent ‘juicy’, temulent ‘drunken’, truculent ‘fierce, ill-tempered’, turbulent ‘causing disturbence, inclined to disorder’… they’re all perfectly cromulent words.
And a certain amount of opulence is prefectly cromulent, too, within reason. Life should have its ups and downs, its restraints and luxuries. Allow yourself the occasional luxury, especially after a magnum opus… just make it special ops.