Yorkshire Times
A Voice of the Free Press
Paul Spalding-Mulcock
Features Writer
1:02 AM 7th October 2023

Word Of The Week : Mercurial

Mercurial adjective

Messages from the Heavens, or the Conference floor, invariably influence our weltanschauung, shaping the way we perceive reality, though seldom originating in anything more substantial than myth. From Roman mythology, Mercury was ordained as the messenger and herald of the Gods, whilst himself being the god of merchants and thieves.

Noted for his eloquence, swiftness and cunning, our Roman forbears sought to honour this celestial deity by naming him after the fastest planet in their observable universe. The adjective Mercurial is derived from the Latin mercurialis, meaning of, or related to Mercury. By implication, this descriptive term suggested the possession of its originator’s own qualities, namely eloquence, ingenuity and less flatteringly, thievishness.

Photo by Jon Butterworth on Unsplash
Photo by Jon Butterworth on Unsplash
In modern parlance, ‘Mercurial’ has lost its ancient resonance with its putative God, now denoting something which is characterised by rapid and unpredictable change, especially of mood.

Synonyms for Mercurial must be chosen judiciously. Inconsistent implies an incapacity for steadiness due to an inherent tendency to change. Fickle suggests unreliability due to perverse changeability. Capricious suggests motivation by sudden whim or fancy, with emphasis upon deleterious unpredictability.

A safe bet is the hypothetical neologism, Sunakial…a weak-willed proclivity towards ideological and ethical inconsistency, itself predicated upon a profound fear of the loss of status and immunity from public censure. Helpfully, this particular synonym also conveys volatility of temperament, cunning mendacity and political flip-flopping in pursuit of grubby solipsistic ends.