Rogue Words from A to Z: The Merits of Morale

A to Z Letter MMan down! In today’s rogue words story, I will help you to master two pairs of easily mixed-up words: morale / moral and meretricious / meritorious.

Morale vs. Moral

Although these two words are spelled almost the same way, their meanings are very different.

Morale (pronounced moh-RAL) describes the amount of confidence or enthusiasm an individual or group has at a particular moment in time. This word often comes up in military settings to describe the feelings of the troops.

Marissa was obviously feeling maudlin as she recounted the tale of their team’s struggle to make their way through the maze of alien streets.

“There we were, with Master Sergeant Melanie in the lead, surrounded on all sides by those alien maggots. We knew it would be a desperate fight, and that we might not make it out alive. But we had confidence in Sarge.

“Our morale was high, because we felt that she would get us through it.”

Moral (pronounced MOH-rul) describes the goodness or badness of human behaviour, and the distinction between right and wrong. This is where we get the saying, “the moral of the story.”

“But then that good-for-nothing Magnus decided that it was his turn to be leader, and he shot Sarge in the back. I never thought of him as a moral person, but to do that right in the middle of combat? We were all shocked.”

Meretricious vs. Meritorious

These words are mouthfuls, aren’t they?

Meretricious describes something that is showily attractive, but valueless. Interesting fact: It is derived from the Latin word for prostitute (meretrix).

“Magnus was one of those types who could afford all the best armor and the rare and powerful guns. He sure looked the part of a leader. But he was meretricious. No substance to him at all.”

Meritorious describes a person or act that has merit and deserves praise or awards.

“Sarge deserved a medal for everything she did for us. Her actions were meritorious. But now she was dead. And we knew we were all doomed.”

Mark leaned forward from his perch on the basement couch. His mouth full of potato chips, he asked, “So what did you guys do?”

“Oh, we killed the game,” said Marissa. “And we kicked Marcus off the server. There was no way we were playing with that loser again. Luckily it wasn’t that far back to the last save point, so we didn’t lose a lot of progress. And then we kicked alien butt! You should have seen us!”

Bonus Word: Maudlin

The word maudlin has a fascinating history. It means being foolishly sentimental or self-pitying, and is often associated with crying drunkards. It comes from the Old French Madeleine from the Latin Magdalena, and refers to pictures of Mary Magdalen weeping.

***

Have you read or used the word meretricious? I have yet to use it in my own writing. (Other than in this post, of course. There’s a first time for everything!)

Definitions are from the Canadian Oxford Dictionary.

This post is dedicated to Shelley Sackier and Shawn. Thanks for reading!

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post, where I will nab that nuisance of a letter N…

 

© Sue Archer and Doorway Between Worlds, 2015

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35 thoughts on “Rogue Words from A to Z: The Merits of Morale

    1. Glad you liked them! These words don’t come up a lot, so it’s harder to recognize the spelling. I’ve seen moral and morale being mixed up with each other a few times.

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  1. Learning new words on a beautiful clear morning; I love it! “maudlin” Will need to use it someday.

    Spelling of moral and morale…tricky one for me. In French, the morale of a group, is “moral” and the moral of the story is “la morale de l’histoire”. Never got them read since I am young…always mixed both languages – why does this spelling has to be different for the same meaning?

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    1. Wow, Nicole, I didn’t know these were spelled the opposite way in French. That’s so odd – I had always assumed we borrowed “morale” from French and used it as is. I have learned something new today, thanks!

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  2. I love the stories you create to help define the words you come up with for each letter. This one cracked me up. So glad it was a video game and Master Sergeant Melanie was revived!
    I haven’t used meretricious, but I love learning from where its derived. Meretrix just went into my notebook of interesting words and meaning to keep in mind for future projects. Thanks!

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    1. I’m happy you’re enjoying the stories. I realized that one was getting a bit grim, so a video game it was! Glad to hear I could add to your word notebook, I’m sure you have quite the collection there. 🙂

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  3. I have to be honest, not only have I yet to use meretricious (or meritorious for that matter) in my own writing, but I had no idea what the word meretricious even meant before this post. Learn something new every day!

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  4. I’m squeeing that we follow the same blogs… but no, I have never used meretricious before (though woo! I got that spelling in one go!) I have seen meritorious before, in my lists from Vocabulary.com.

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    1. I’m enjoying your squee. 🙂 I feel like blogging is a spiderweb of interconnections – if only I had time to explore them all!

      I’ll bet they use meretricious on spelling tests during the finals.

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  5. Okay, so I grew up in a house where wonky words were used with regularity. And I almost feel a little guilty for suggesting the two words, BUT–I absolutely loved discovering the Latin root for meretricious. ‘Trix’ at the end of meretrix, is going to solidify that word right next to ‘prostitute.’ I think I shall never mix the two up again.
    And good heavens, Sue, what a massive amount of work you are putting into these posts. Really, they should be bound and sold as a ‘Good Grammar Guide for the Galaxy.” I simply love them!

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    1. I grew up with a lot of wonky words as well, although most of those were made up. 🙂 And I’m so glad you’re loving the series. (If I hadn’t done most of them in advance I’d be going crazy right now – they’re a lot of fun to write, though.) I think I might make it a regular blog feature when A to Z is over. And maybe I will collect the best of them as a book someday!

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