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mor·​dant ˈmȯr-dᵊnt How to pronounce mordant (audio)
: biting and caustic in thought, manner, or style : incisive
a mordant wit
: acting as a mordant (as in dyeing)
: burning, pungent
mordant pain
mordantly adverb


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: a chemical that fixes a dye in or on a substance by combining with the dye to form an insoluble compound
: a corroding substance used in etching


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mordanted; mordanting; mordants

transitive verb

: to treat with a mordant

Did you know?

The etymology of mordant certainly has some bite to it. That word, which came to modern English through Middle French, ultimately derives from the Latin verb mordēre, which means "to bite." In modern parlance, mordant usually suggests a wit that is used with deadly effectiveness. Mordēre puts the bite into other English terms, too. For instance, that root gave us the tasty morsel ("a tiny bite"). But nibble too many of those and you'll likely be hit by another mordēre derivative: remorse ("guilt for past wrongs"), which comes from Latin remordēre, meaning "to bite again."

Choose the Right Synonym for mordant

caustic, mordant, acrid, scathing mean stingingly incisive.

caustic suggests a biting wit.

caustic comments

mordant suggests a wit that is used with deadly effectiveness.

mordant reviews of the play

acrid implies bitterness and often malevolence.

acrid invective

scathing implies indignant attacks delivered with fierce severity.

a scathing satire

Example Sentences

Adjective a writer famous for her mordant humor a mordant review of the movie that compared it to having one's teeth pulled for two hours
Recent Examples on the Web
Starring Steve Carell as a psychotherapist forced to treat his captor, a compulsive murderer (played by Domnhall Gleeson) struggling to give up violence, the series dishes up distinctive characters and plenty of mordant wit. Inkoo Kang, Washington Post, 29 Sep. 2022 In the giddy whirlwind of the film’s opening section, Bobby narrates his life with the mordant panache of Woody Allen at his most dryly amusing. Ann Hornaday, Washington Post, 28 Sep. 2022 The film is a mordant and sober look at how a public figure, celebrated for her beauty above all else, ages into a complicated woman trapped in a gilded cage. David Sims, The Atlantic, 23 Sep. 2022 Part of DeLillo’s mordant jest of a book, and the fun of the wordplay, is that the adults are children, too — especially the niche academics. Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune, 2 Sep. 2022 There is a marvelously mordant quality to Ed Lin’s novels, which combine depictions of the darkest criminality with a sense of the absurd. New York Times, 28 July 2022 Despite the mordant local industry, high profile international productions have continued to use Sri Lanka as a location. Naman Ramachandran, Variety, 23 July 2022 Johns’s entire body of work, to go by this elephantine show of more than 500 works, is akin to a trove of Nabokovian love letters — obscure and thwarted, but also punning, mordant, full of life. Washington Post, 29 Sep. 2021 Her mordant wit and insight into the darkest chambers of the human heart shaped me, first as a reader and then as a writer. Hillel Italie, ajc, 11 Aug. 2022
The actors are nimble with Letts’ mordant, deceptively situational humor, and in embodying their characters’ chilling complacency. Naveen Kumar, Variety, 17 Apr. 2022 Loudon, 70-something patriarch, inhabits the canopy; from folkie to singing surgeon to some measure of each, adjoining the mordant to the serious. Nathan Rizzo | For The Oregonian/oregonlive, oregonlive, 1 Nov. 2021 But Stewart’s take on Diana gives this film a wicked sense of humor too, emphasizing how her mordant sarcasm clashed just as uncomfortably with the royal family as her independent streak did. David Sims, The Atlantic, 25 Sep. 2021 But another three words, albeit unspoken, also pulse beneath this mordant and inventive satire by James Ijames: Examine your assumptions., 1 May 2021 Petite, quietly savage, with a sense of humor that can skew either goofy or mordant, Milioti, 35, is not the girl next door. New York Times, 26 Mar. 2021 The writing is brilliant, bringing to life a narrator with a penetrating gaze and a mordant, misanthropic voice. Scott W. Stern, The New Republic, 11 Feb. 2021 Narrator George Blagden beautifully captures the tenor of Nana’s mordant wit, his lofty view of himself, and his frequent spates of umbrage at human presumption and sheer stupidity. Washington Post, 14 Dec. 2020 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'mordant.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History


Adjective and Noun

Middle French, present participle of mordre to bite, from Latin mordēre; perhaps akin to Sanskrit mṛdnāti he presses, rubs

First Known Use


15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1791, in the meaning defined at sense 1


1836, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of mordant was in the 15th century


Dictionary Entries Near mordant

Cite this Entry

“Mordant.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 7 Dec. 2022.

Kids Definition


: sarcastic, biting
mordant criticism

Medical Definition


mor·​dant ˈmȯrd-ᵊnt How to pronounce mordant (audio)
: a chemical that fixes a dye in or on a substance by combining with the dye to form an insoluble compound
mordant transitive verb

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Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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