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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Community Comment

A Word A Day — volatile

September 18, 2012

Word of the Day

  • volatile
  • audio pronunciation
  • \VAH-luh-tul\


: readily vaporizable at a relatively low temperature
: tending to erupt into violence : explosive
: characterized by or subject to rapid or unexpected change

The country's unsteady economy is due to volatile global markets and the new government's rash economic reforms.

"Beef prices, which are more volatile than food prices overall, will likely go down before they go up because farmers are finding it too expensive to feed some animals." — From an article by Harold Brubaker and Jeff Gelles in The Philadelphia Inquirer, August 15, 2012


"Volatile" was originally for the birds—quite literally. Back in the 14th century, "volatile" was a noun that referred to birds (especially wild fowl) or other winged creatures, such as butterflies. That's not as flighty as it sounds. "Volatile" traces back to the Latin verb "volare," which means "to fly." By the end of the 16th century, people were using "volatile" as an adjective for things that were so light they seemed ready to fly. The adjective was soon extended to vapors and gases, and by the early 17th century, "volatile" was being applied to individuals or things as prone to sudden change as some gaseous substances. In recent years, "volatile" has landed in economic, political, and technical contexts far flown from its avian origins.

From Merriam-Webster Online at

Spokesman-Review readers blog about news and issues in Spokane written by Dave Laird.