Two words for writers of feature stories
When a writer takes up a subject charged with emotion — the death of a child, an older person’s lingering demise, or, at the other extreme, the marriage of a former president’s daughter — it is easy to let control slip. It is salutary to keep in mind two words that you never want anyone to apply to your work.
The first is mawkish, or relentlessly sentimental in a manner so insipid as to be sickening. The word derives from the Middle English mawke — maggot — and originally meant “maggoty.”
The second, often given as a synonym of the first, is maudlin, or foolishly and tearfully sentimental (often from drink). It is a corruption of Magdalene. The conventional portrayal of Mary Magdalene in the Middle Ages was of a woman weeping copiously,* and the association of emotion with her name, combined with the famed British slurring of pronunciation, gave us the adjective.
The colleges at Oxford and Cambridge, Magdalen at the former and Magdalene at the latter, are named for her, and both are pronounced “maudlin.”
So if you would prefer not to be thought drunkenly weepy, or maggoty, keep the emotional language under control and be wary of your own propensity for excess.
And — yes, you should have seen this coming — you might want to have an editor go over that text, in case you still need to be saved from yourself.
*And in the seventeenth century inspired Richard Crashaw’s hilariously excessive poem, “The Weeper.”