Word of The Day for Friday, October 8, 2010


mulct  (muhlkt)   \məlkt\ 


1. to penalize by fining or demanding forfeiture
2. to acquire by trickery or deception
3. to defraud or swindle
a penalty such as a fine

mulcted past participle; mulcted past tense; mulcting present participle; mulcts 3rd person singular present; mulctation noun; mulctative, mulctatory, mulctuary adjective

Synonyms: balk, deceive, defraud, fine, fleece, forfeit, penalize, punish, rook, steal, swindle

• And as these irregularities are too frequently practised (as we have reason to believe) at coffee-houses, cook-shops and victualling-houses, all proctors and magistrates of the University are strictly required to be vigilant and careful in visiting all such public-houses and places of entertainment and idleness, and in duly punishing all young scholars whom they shall at any time find at such places; and likewise laying a mulct on the masters or mistresses of such houses for receiving and entertaining such scholars, contrary to the known rules, orders and statutes of the University. Given under our hand the day and year above mentioned. 1748
• To the government advocate it will belong to be upon the watch for every such instance of obstruction to justice, and to make demand accordingly for the infliction of the mulct. 1839
• It is a meaningless distinction to characterize the mulct tax as an additional penalty.

The Storyline
Anna scanned her possessions before moving toward the door and wondered with what rouse Kurt would attempt to mulct some small favor from her this time.

1591 from Fr. mulcter "to fine, punish," from L. mulctare, altered from multare "punish, to fine," from multa "penalty, fine," perhaps from Oscan or Samnite. Sense of "defraud" is first recorded 1748

Sources: Merriam-Webster, FreeDictionary, Thesaurus.com, Online Eytmology

Why This Word:
Even in its now largely unused legal sense, mulct meant taking by government. Starting in 1748 and contemporaneously, however infrequently, it's more apt to mean a taking of a less legitimate nature. And given our current political climate it's not hard to understand how mulct may have made the transition. We already use tax to mean something onerous and at times to mean costs other than a government levy, such as when arguments are made that environmental regulations are effectively a tax on business or consumers.

And on a side note, how great is it to find a quote with this new meaning from the same year it was first noted?

Word-E: A Word-A-Day

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