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Borrowed from Medieval Latin unctuōsus (“oily”), from Latin unctum, from unguere, ungere (to anoint).


  • IPA(key): /ˈʌnktʃuəs/, /ʌnktjuəs/
    • (file)
  • Hyphenation: unc‧tu‧ous


unctuous (comparative more unctuous, superlative most unctuous)

  1. (of a liquid or substance) Oily or greasy.
    • 1851, Herman Melville, chapter 96, in Moby Dick:
      In a word, after being tried out, the crisp, shrivelled blubber, now called scraps or fritters, still contains considerable of its unctuous properties.
  2. (of a wine, coffee, sauce, gravy etc.) Rich, lush, intense, with layers of concentrated, soft, velvety flavor.
    • 1872, Bayard Taylor, chapter 3, in Beauty and The Beast; and Tales of Home:
      The halls and passages of the castle were already permeated with rich and unctuous smells, and a delicate nose might have picked out and arranged, by their finer or coarser vapors, the dishes preparing for the upper and lower tables.
  3. (by extension, of a person) Profusely polite, especially unpleasantly so and insincerely earnest.
    • 1857, Anthony Trollope, Barchester Towers, Volume the Second, page 14 →ISBN
      Then he thoroughly disliked the tone of Mr. Slope's letter; it was unctuous, false, and unwholesome, like the man.
    • 1919, Stephen Leacock, chapter 8, in The Hohenzollerns in America:
      In superior circles, however, introduction becomes more elaborate, more flattering, more unctuous.


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