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