From Wiktionary, the free dictionary
Jump to navigation Jump to search
See also: Mellow



The adjective is derived from Late Middle English melowe, melwe (ripe, mellow; juicy; sweet) [and other forms];[1] further etymology uncertain, possibly:[2]

The noun and verb are both derived from the adjective.[7][8] The etymology of noun sense 3 (“close friend; lover”) is unknown, but may also be derived from the adjective.[9]



mellow (comparative mellower or more mellow, superlative mellowest or most mellow)

  1. (also figuratively, of fruit) Soft or tender by reason of ripeness; having a tender pulp.
    Synonyms: mellowy; see also Thesaurus:soft
    a mellow apple
    • 1589, T[homas] Nashe, The Anatomie of Absurditie: [], London: [] I[ohn] Charlewood for Thomas Hacket, [], →OCLC; republished as J[ohn] P[ayne] C[ollier], editor, The Anatomie of Absurditie (Old English Literature), [London: s.n., 1866], →OCLC, page 40:
      How can thoſe men call home the loſt ſheepe that are gone aſtray, comming into the miniſtery before their wits be ſtaied? This greene fruite, beeing gathered before it be ripe, is rotten before it be mellow, and infected with ſciſmes before they have learned to bridle their affections, []
    • c. 1608–1609 (date written), William Shakespeare, “The Tragedy of Coriolanus”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies [] (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, →OCLC, [Act IV, scene vi], page 24, column 2:
      Com[inius]. Hee'l ſhake your Rome about your eares. / Mene[nius]. As Hercules did ſhake downe Mellow Fruite: You haue made faire worke.
    • 1681, John Dryden, The Spanish Fryar: Or, the Double Discovery. [], London: [] Richard Tonson and Jacob Tonson, [], →OCLC, Act III, page 42:
      A little longer, yet a little longer, / And Nature drops him down, without your Sin, / Like mellow Fruit, without a Winter Storm.
    • 1871–1872, George Eliot [pseudonym; Mary Ann Evans], “Final”, in Middlemarch [], volume IV, Edinburgh, London: William Blackwood and Sons, →OCLC, book VIII, page 361:
      But Mary secretly rejoiced that the youngest of the three was very much what her father must have been when he wore a round jacket, and showed a marvellous nicety of aim in playing at marbles, or in throwing stones to bring down the mellow pears.
    • 1892, Alfred Tennyson, The Foresters: Robin Hood and Maid Marian, London, New York, N.Y.: Macmillan and Co., →OCLC, Act I, scene i, page 3:
      Ay, how fine they be in their liveries, and each of 'em as full of meat as an egg, and as sleek and as round about as a mellow codlin.
  2. (also figuratively, of food or drink, or its flavour) Matured and smooth, and not acidic, harsh, or sharp.
  3. (of soil) Soft and easily penetrated or worked; not hard or rigid; loamy.
    Synonym: yielding
  4. (chiefly poetic)
    1. (of leaves, seeds, plants, etc.) Mature; of crops: ready to be harvested; ripe.
      • 1792, [William] Cowper, “The Needless Alarm. A Tale.”, in The Speaker: Or, Miscellaneous Pieces, Selected from the Best English Writers, and Disposed under Proper Heads, with a View to Facilitate the Improvement of Youth in Reading and Speaking. [], new edition, London: [] J[oseph] Johnson, [], →OCLC, page 70:
        Nor autumn yet had bruſh'd from ev'ry ſpray, / With her chill hand, the mellow leaves away; []
    2. (of a place, or the climate or weather) Fruitful and warm.
      Synonym: mellowy
  5. (figuratively)
    1. (of colour, sound, style, etc.) Not coarse, brash, harsh, or rough; delicate, rich, soft, subdued.
      Synonym: mellowy
      • 1668, Franciscus Euistor the Palæopolite [pseudonym; Henry More], “The Third Dialogue”, in Divine Dialogues, Containing Sundry Disquisitions & Instructions Concerning the Attributes of God and His Providence in the World. [], 2nd edition, London: [] Joseph Downing [], published 1713, →OCLC, paragraph XXXVI, page 284:
        How ſweet and mellow, and yet how Majeſtick, is the Sound of it!
      • 1700, [John] Dryden, “The Twelfth Book of Ovid his Metamorphoses, Wholly Translated”, in Fables Ancient and Modern; [], London: [] Jacob Tonson, [], →OCLC, page 427:
        The mellow Harp did not their Ears employ: / And mute was all the Warlike Symphony: / Diſcourſe, the Food of Souls, was their Delight, / And pleaſing Chat, prolong'd the Summers-night.
      • 1766, [Oliver Goldsmith], “The History of a Philosophic Vagabond, Pursuing Novelty, but Losing Content”, in The Vicar of Wakefield: [], volume II, Salisbury, Wiltshire: [] B. Collins, for F[rancis] Newbery, [], →OCLC; reprinted London: Elliot Stock, 1885, →OCLC, page 28:
        I remember to have ſeen him, after giving his opinion that the colouring of a picture was not mellow enough, very deliberately take a bruſh with brown varniſh, that was accidentally lying in the place, and rub it over the piece with great compoſure before all the company, and then aſk if he had not improved the tints.
      • 1787–1789, William Wordsworth, “An Evening Walk, Addressed to a Young Lady”, in Henry [Hope] Reed, editor, The Complete Poetical Works of William Wordsworth, Philadelphia, Pa.: Hayes & Zell, [], published 1860, →OCLC, page 27, column 2:
        [F]rom the neighbouring water, hear at morn / The hound, the horses' tread, and mellow horn; []
      • 1821 August 8, [Lord Byron], Don Juan, Cantos III, IV, and V, London: [] Thomas Davison, [], →OCLC, canto IV, stanza LXXXVII, page 114:
        But being the prima donna's near relation, / Who swore his voice was very rich and mellow, / They hired him, though to hear him you'd believe / An ass was practising recitative.
      • 1822, James G[ates] Percival, “Canto XXVII”, in Prometheus, Part II: With Other Poems, New Haven, Conn.: [] A. H. Maltby and Co., →OCLC, page 18:
        It was from gazing on the fairy hues, / That hung around the born and dying day; / The tender flush, whose mellow stain imbues / Heaven with all freaks of light, and where it lay / Deep-bosom'd in a still and waveless bay, / The sea reflected all that glow'd above, []
      • 1835, Alfred Tennyson, “Locksley Hall”, in Poems. [], volume II, London: Edward Moxon, [], published 1842, →OCLC, page 108:
        Larger constellations burning, mellow moons and happy skies, / Breadths of tropic shade and palms in cluster, knots of Paradise.
      • 1859, George Eliot [pseudonym; Mary Ann Evans], “The Workshop”, in Adam Bede [], volume I, Edinburgh, London: William Blackwood and Sons, →OCLC, book first, page 15:
        It was a low house, with smooth grey thatch and buff walls, looking pleasant and mellow in the evening light.
      • 1889, Mark Twain [pseudonym; Samuel Langhorne Clemens], “The Battle of the Sand-belt”, in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, New York, N.Y.: Charles L. Webster & Company, →OCLC, page 560:
        True, there were the usual night-sounds of the country—the whir of night-birds, the buzzing of insects, the barking of distant dogs, the mellow lowing of far-off kine—but these didn't seem to break the stillness, they only intensified it, and added a grewsome melancholy to it into the bargain.
      • 1908 June, L[ucy] M[aud] Montgomery, “Miss Stacy and Her Pupils Get Up a Concert”, in Anne of Green Gables, Boston, Mass.: L[ouis] C[oues] Page & Company, published August 1909 (11th printing), →OCLC, page 264:
        It was October again when Anne was ready to go back to school—a glorious October, all red and gold, with mellow mornings when the valleys were filled with delicate mists as if the spirit of autumn had poured them in for the sun to drain—amethyst, pearl, silver, rose, and smoke-blue.
      • 1910 November – 1911 August, Frances Hodgson Burnett, “‘It’s Mother!’”, in The Secret Garden, New York, N.Y.: Frederick A[bbott] Stokes Company, published 1911, →OCLC, page 349:
        When they told her about the robin and the first flight of the young ones she laughed a motherly little mellow laugh in her throat.
      • 1963, Margery Allingham, “Miss Thyrza’s Chair”, in The China Governess: A Mystery, London: Chatto & Windus, →OCLC, page 41:
        Here the stripped panelling was warmly gold and the pictures, mostly of the English school, were mellow and gentle in the afternoon light.
    2. Senses relating to a person or their qualities.
      1. Well-matured from age or experience; not impetuous or impulsive; calm, dignified, gentle.
      2. Cheerful, genial, jovial, merry; also, easygoing, laid-back, relaxed.
        (cheerful): Synonyms: convivial, gay; see also Thesaurus:happy
        (relaxed): Synonyms: casual, easy-breezy
        • 1711 May 29 (Gregorian calendar), [Joseph Addison], “FRIDAY, May 18, 1711”, in The Spectator, number 68; republished in Alexander Chalmers, editor, The Spectator; a New Edition, [], volume I, New York, N.Y.: D[aniel] Appleton & Company, 1853, →OCLC, page 417:
          In all thy humours, whether grave or mellow, / Thou'rt such a touchy, testy, pleasant fellow; / Hast so much wit, and mirth, and spleen about thee, / There is no living with thee, nor without thee.
          A translation of Martial’s Epigrams, book XII, number 47.
        • 1824, Geoffrey Crayon [pseudonym; Washington Irving], “A Hunting Dinner”, in Tales of a Traveller, part 1 (Strange Stories. []), Philadelphia, Pa.: H[enry] C[harles] Carey & I[saac] Lea, [], →OCLC, page 10:
          The Baronet was when I saw him as merry and mellow an old bachelor as ever followed a hound; and the love he had once felt for one woman had spread itself over the whole sex; so that there was not a pretty face in the whole country round, but came in for a share.
        • 1966 October 24, Donovan Phillips Leitch (lyrics and music), “Mellow Yellow”, in Mellow Yellow, performed by Donovan:
          I'm just mad about Saffron / A-Saffron's mad about me / I'm-a just mad about Saffron / She's just mad about me / They call me mellow yellow (quite rightly) / They call me mellow yellow (quite rightly) / They call me mellow yellow
      3. Drunk, intoxicated; especially slightly or pleasantly so, or to an extent that makes one cheerful and friendly.
        Synonyms: mellowish; see also Thesaurus:drunk
        • 1847 March 30, Herman Melville, “Queen Pomaree”, in Omoo: A Narrative of Adventures in the South Seas; [], London: John Murray, [], →OCLC, page 309:
          [] Tanee was accosted by certain good fellows, friends and boon companions, who condoled with him on his misfortunes—railed against the queen, and finally dragged him away to an illicit vender of spirits, in whose house the party got gloriously mellow.
        • 1876, Mark Twain [pseudonym; Samuel Langhorne Clemens], chapter XXI, in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Hartford, Conn.: The American Publishing Company, →OCLC, page 174:
          Now the master, mellow almost to the verge of geniality, put his chair aside, turned his back to his audience, and began to draw a map of America on the blackboard, to exercise the geography class upon.
      4. (chiefly US, slang) Pleasantly high or stoned, and relaxed after taking drugs; also, of drugs: slightly intoxicating and tending to produce such effects.
        Synonyms: see Thesaurus:stoned
        • 2004, Cecil Young, “Department of Health”, in One Canada: Creating the Greatest Country on Earth, Victoria, B.C.: Trafford Publishing, →ISBN, page 266:
          These boys were heavy smokers, and like my high school classmates, were always "high", "cool" and "mellow." They were never violent and were helpful and respectful to the adults in our village.
        • 2014, Julie McSorley, Marcus McSorley, “Part One: Early 1980s”, in Out of the Box: The Highs and Lows of a Champion Smuggler, Berkeley, Calif.: Roaring Forties Press, →ISBN, page 30:
          Late that night, everyone was sprawled on the sofas and bean bags in the lounge room, mellow because they'd smoked a couple of joints of hash.
        • 2014, Carrie Mesrobian, chapter 9, in Perfectly Good White Boy, Minneapolis, Minn.: Carolrhoda Lab, Lerner Publishing Group, →ISBN, page 132:
          "It better be that mellow shit, Kerry," Wendy said, biting into a cookie. "I have to work tomorrow." / "It's mellow shit. You've smoked this stuff before."
  6. (chiefly African-American Vernacular, slang) Pleasing in some way; excellent, fantastic, great.

Derived terms[edit]



mellow (plural mellows) (US, informal)

  1. The property of being mellow; mellowness.
  2. (specifically) A comfortable or relaxed mood.
    • 1997, Neil A. Hamilton, The ABC-CLIO Companion to the 1960s Counterculture in America, Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, →ISBN, page 258, column 1:
      Yet, conversely, some people searched for the mellow [] Hope for flower power had faded, though the journey into the mellow did not represent idealism; rather, it spelled escape— []
    • 1999, Kurt Andersen, chapter 37, in Turn of the Century, New York, N.Y.: Random House, →ISBN, part 3 (June, July, August, September, October), page 508:
      Nothing like a suicide to harsh a mellow. On their third date, Lizzie had actually said to him, "You're sort of harshing my mellow." It made him wonder if she might be stupid, and not just young.
  3. (African-American Vernacular) Also main mellow: a close friend or lover.

Derived terms[edit]



mellow (third-person singular simple present mellows, present participle mellowing, simple past and past participle mellowed)

  1. (transitive)
    1. To cause (fruit) to become soft or tender, specifically by ripening.
      • 1697, Virgil, “The Second Book of the Georgics”, in John Dryden, transl., The Works of Virgil: Containing His Pastorals, Georgics, and Æneis. [], London: [] Jacob Tonson, [], →OCLC, page 94:
        Then Olives, ground in Mills, their fatneſs boaſt, / And Winter Fruits are mellow'd by the Froſt.
      • 1782, William Cowper, “Conversation”, in Poems, London: [] J[oseph] Johnson, [], →OCLC, page 244:
        As time improves the grape's authentic juice, / Mellows and makes the ſpeech more fit for uſe, / And claims a rev'rence in its ſhort'ning day, / That 'tis an honour and a joy to pay.
      • 1848, [Edward Bulwer-Lytton], chapter V, in Harold, the Last of the Saxon Kings; [], 2nd edition, volume I, London: Richard Bentley, [], →OCLC, book III (The House of Godwin), page 218:
        Ever since we last saw her, in the interval between the spring and the autumn, the year had ripened the youth of the maiden, as it had mellowed the fruits of the earth; []
    2. To cause (food or drink, for example, cheese or wine, or its flavour) to become matured and smooth, and not acidic, harsh, or sharp.
    3. (archaic except Britain, regional) To soften (land or soil) and make it suitable for planting in.
    4. (figuratively)
      1. To reduce or remove the harshness or roughness from (something); to soften, to subdue, to tone down.
        • 1593, Tho[mas] Nashe, Christs Teares Over Ierusalem. [], London: [] Iames Roberts, and are to be solde by Andrewe Wise, [], →OCLC, folio 16, verso:
          VVas thought-exceeding glorification, ſuch a cloyance and cumber vnto me, that I muſt leaue it: as Archeſilaus ouer-melodied, and too-much melovved & ſugred with ſvveet tunes, turned them aſide, and cauſed his ears to be nevv reliſhed vvith harſh ſovver and vnſauory ſounds?
        • 1596, Tho[mas] Nashe, “Dialogus”, in Haue with You to Saffron-Walden. Or, Gabriell Harveys Hunt is Up. [], London: [] John Danter, →OCLC; republished as J[ohn] P[ayne] C[ollier], editor, Have with You to Saffron-Walden (Miscellaneous Tracts; Temp. Eliz. and Jac. I), [London: s.n., 1870], →OCLC, page 106:
          The page was eaſily mellowd with his attractive eloquence, as what heart of adamant, or encloſed in a crocodyles ſkin (which no yron will pierce) that hath the power to withſtand the Mercurian heavenly charme of hys rhetorique?
        • a. 1701 (date written), John Dryden, “Epistle the Fourteenth. To Sir Godfrey Kneller, Principal Painter to His Majesty.”, in The Miscellaneous Works of John Dryden, [], volume II, London: [] J[acob] and R[ichard] Tonson, [], published 1760, →OCLC, page 201:
          For time ſhall with his ready pencil ſtand; / Retouch your figures with his ripening hand; / Mellow your colors, and imbrown the teint; / Add every grace, which time alone can grant; / To future ages ſhall your fame convey, / And give more beauties than he takes away.
        • 1754, David Hume, “[James I.] Chapter III.”, in The History of Great Britain, under the House of Stuart, 2nd edition, volume I, London: [] A[ndrew] Millar, [], published 1759, →OCLC, page 54:
          [B]y the prevalence of fanaticiſm, a gloomy and ſullen diſpoſition eſtabliſhed itſelf among the people; a ſpirit, obſtinate and dangerous; independent and diſorderly; animated equally with a contempt of authority, and a hatred to every other mode of religion, particularly to the catholic. In order to mellow these humours, James [VI and I] endeavoured to infuſe a ſmall tincture of ceremony into the national worſhip, and to introduce ſuch rites as might, in ſome degree, occupy the mind, and pleaſe the ſenſes, without departing too far from that ſimplicity, by which the reformation was diſtinguiſhed.
        • 1810, Walter Scott, “Canto II. The Island.”, in The Lady of the Lake; [], Edinburgh: [] [James Ballantyne and Co.] for John Ballantyne and Co.; London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme, and William Miller, →OCLC, stanza XVII, page 67:
          Ever, as on they bore, more loud / And louder rung the pibroch proud. / At first the sounds, by distance tame, / Mellowed along the waters came, / And, lingering long by cape and bay, / Wailed every harsher note away; []
        • 1915, W[illiam] Somerset Maugham, chapter CVI, in Of Human Bondage, New York, N.Y.: George H[enry] Doran Company, →OCLC, page 557:
          [T]ime had mellowed the marble to the colour of honey, so that unconsciously one thought of the bees of Hymettus, and softened their outlines.
      2. To cause (a person) to become calmer, gentler, and more understanding, particularly from age or experience.
        The fervour of early feeling is tempered and mellowed by the ripeness of age.
      3. (chiefly passive voice) To cause (a person) to become slightly or pleasantly drunk or intoxicated.
      4. (also reflexive, originally US, informal) Followed by out: to relax (a person); in particular, to cause (a person) to become pleasantly high or stoned by taking drugs.
  2. (intransitive)
    1. (of food or drink, or its flavour) To mature and lose its harshness or sharpness.
    2. (archaic except Britain, regional, of soil) To be rendered soft and suitable for planting in.
    3. (figuratively)
      1. To lose harshness; to become gentler, subdued, or toned down.
        • c. 1593 (date written), William Shakespeare, “The Tragedy of Richard the Third: []”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies [] (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, →OCLC, [Act IV, scene iv], page 77:
          So now proſperitie begins to mellow / And drop into the rotten mouth of Death: []
        • a. 1632 (date written), John Donne, “On Himself”, in Henry Alford, editor, The Works of John Donne, D.D., [], volume VI, London: John W[illiam] Parker, [], published 1839, →OCLC, page 560:
          [T]ill death us lay / To ripe and mellow, here we're stubborn clay.
          The spelling has been modernized.
        • 1638, Tho[mas] Herbert, Some Yeares Travels Into Divers Parts of Asia and Afrique. [], 2nd edition, London: [] R[ichard] Bi[sho]p for Iacob Blome and Richard Bishop, →OCLC, book III, page 297:
          The Bannana's [taste] is no leſſe dainty: the tree mounts not high, but ſpreads in a moſt gracefull poſture: the fruit is long, not unlike a Soſſage in ſhape, in taſt moſt excellent: they ripen though you crop them immaturely; and from a dark-greene, mellow into a flaming yellow: []
        • 1823, Lord Byron, “Canto II”, in The Island, or Christian and His Comrades, London: [] John Hunt, [], →OCLC, stanza XVI, page 36, lines 360–363:
          The broad sun set, but not with lingering sweep, / As in the North he mellows o'er the deep, / But fiery, full and fierce, as if he left / The world forever, earth of light bereft, []
        • 1841 February–November, Charles Dickens, “Barnaby Rudge”, in Master Humphrey’s Clock, volume II, London: Chapman & Hall, [], →OCLC, chapter 11, page 297:
          The very furniture of the room seemed to mellow and deepen in its tone; the ceiling and walls looked blacker and more highly polished, the curtains of a ruddier red; the fire burnt clear and high, and the crickets in the hearth-stone chirped with a more than wonted satisfaction.
      2. (originally US, informal, followed by out, of a person) To relax; in particular, to become pleasantly high or stoned by taking drugs.

Derived terms[edit]



  1. ^ mē̆lwe, adj.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  2. ^ mellow, adj.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, September 2021.
  3. ^ mēle, n.(1)”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  4. ^ mellow, adj.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–2022.
  5. ^ meruw(e, adj.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
  6. ^ Compare “† merrow, adj.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, December 2020.
  7. ^ mellow, n.3”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, June 2020.
  8. ^ mellow, v.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, September 2021.
  9. ^ mellow, n.2”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, September 2019.

Further reading[edit]