Printable Version
Pronunciation: êl-yê-layt, yul-yê-layt, Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb, intransitive

Meaning: 1. To to wail loudly while flapping the tongue in grief (click to hear) or for joy (click to hear). 2. To howl or hoot loudly.

Notes: True to its Latin origin, today's Good Word comes with a family of adopted relatives—all with Latin suffixes. The activity of ululating is ululation. Someone who ululates is an ululator who makes ululant or ululatory noises. Ululant may also be used in the sense of "like ululation", as an audience that breaks out in ululant laughter at the opening remarks of the speaker. Most situations that call for "howling" can be spiced up with ululant.

In Play: This word is particularly precise in referring to the Middle Eastern style of wailing: "At the funeral of Mustapha Ghaten women ululated for hours on end." Today, of course, it is used to refer to any type of howling: "At their first concerts, the Beatles could barely be heard over the ululating teenage girls in the audience."

Word History: In the Middle East and northern Africa today women often wail by flapping the tongue to produce a long series of sounds like lu-lu-lu or la-la-la. Roman women probably made a similar sound and the verb from which today's Good Word comes, ululare, was created from that sound (onomatopoeia). The meaning of the word expanded quickly to express any loud sound for the Latin word for screech owl is ulula, clearly taken from the verb. The remains of ululare can be heard today in Portuguese ulular "to howl (like a dog)" and French (h)ululer "to hoot (like an owl)". (Today we must thank Ed Pellicciotti for suggesting this sadly Good Word lest we give him reason for ululation.)

Dr. Goodword,

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