Word: pulchritude

Pronunciation: PƏL-krə-t(y)ood

Part of Speech: noun

Definition: (poetic/literary) beauty

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


I stumbled upon this word while looking through some old vocabulary flashcards, and I distinctly remember the first thought that came to mind when I read it: What an ugly word. It didn’t just look ugly; it sounded ugly. In fact, as soon as I saw it, I assumed it meant something along the lines of “disgust” or “repulsion”. To my surprise, the other side of the card proved me very wrong: “beauty”. “Beauty”? Seriously? How could such an ugly word have such a lovely definition? It was strange, to say the least. But then again, who am I to judge the quirks of language?

“Pulchritude” is a poetic and literary term meaning “beauty”. The word comes from the Latin noun pulchritudo, which also means “beauty”. This, in turn, stems from the adjective pulcher, meaning “beautiful” or “handsome”. “Pulchritude” dates back to Middle English, possibly explaining its poetic uses.

The word “pulchritude” is certainly interesting, I’ll give it that. Having said that, I highly doubt you’ll ever see me use it in my writing. I just can’t get past that harsh tone; there are definitely much softer words I’d prefer to use as synonyms for “beauty”. That’s not to say you shouldn’t use it, of course. If you like unusual poetic words, then by all means, write about the “pulchritude” of a woman in her prime or a cherry tree in spring. If you can appreciate the literary history behind this word, I’m sure you’ll be able to use it well. Have fun!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

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