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Are there any liquids (like vitriol is actually sulfuric acid) that we appropriate figuratively to mean high praise (i.e., the antonym of vitriol)?

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I think 'vitriolic' is not an antonym to 'high praise', but a description. There is critique, and there is vitriolic critique. There is praise, and there is high praise. – Bobbi Bennett Mar 29 '12 at 3:30
I said vitriol, not its adjective form; and it does mean particularly bitter criticism. – ash Mar 29 '12 at 4:09
I was thinking of the milk of human kindness, but since you are looking for a single word, it's too long... – Eugene Seidel Mar 29 '12 at 5:51
@ash None of my dictionaries describe vitriol as meaning criticism. Most describe it as 'particularly bitter' or 'caustic', for instance online Miriam Webster. Let me buffer this rather acid exchange with the balm of praise, and say it is an interesting question. – Bobbi Bennett Mar 29 '12 at 18:53
up vote 11 down vote accepted

'Honey' might be close. It could be used to describe praise, but certainly doesn't mean praise. But 'words sweet as honey' could be the opposite of 'words full of vitriol'

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balsamic (3) Restorative; curative.

This hymn written mid C18 by clergyman / poet brothers John and Charles Wesley...

With humble fear I now draw near,
In my forlorn condition,
Thy balsamic words to hear,
And prove thee my Physician.

...but possibly today people might think more readily of balsamic vinegar - which although relatively sweet, is still basically an acid.

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Balsam itself (in its sense "A sweet-smelling oil or resin derived from various plants") may serve better than balsamic. – jwpat7 Mar 29 '12 at 2:36
@jwpat7: Surely. But if anyone thinks balsamic is useful, it's trivial to accept the implied balsam too. I concentrated on the adjectival form because vitriolic is more common than vitriol - particularly, I'm sure, in the metaphoric sense as it relates to use of language. – FumbleFingers Mar 29 '12 at 2:47
...also note that balsam and balm are etymologically speaking the same word. They're both synonymous with salve, healing /aromatic ointment, etc. – FumbleFingers Mar 29 '12 at 2:51
@FumbleFingers, Salve/Salving is a perfect antonym and is in reasonably common use. Why don't you post that as an answer? – Ben Mar 29 '12 at 9:39
@Ben: I know the differences are vague, but to me, salve and balm are more like "soft cream" for rubbing into affected areas. Balsam, on the other hand, I see more as a liquid (in the UK we have Friars Balsam) – FumbleFingers Mar 29 '12 at 13:05

The most specific word I know of is libation in its classical sense "A serving (of wine) poured out in honor of a deity". However, its facetious sense, "a serving of an alcoholic beverage" probably is used more often.

Terms ambrosia ("the food and drink of the gods") and nectar ("The sweet drink of the Ancient gods") might be used figuratively; eg "Ann's ambrosial words soon slaked Tom's thirst for praise". If you are writing humor you also can work in philtre ("A drink credited with magical power"), ardent spirits ("strong distilled liquor"), and hair of the dog ("An alcoholic drink supposed to cure a hangover").

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I suggest unction.

Although the most prominent definitions refer specifically to the oil used in anointing, in my experience it tends to be used in general in the more metaphorical sense of something comforting or soothing.

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No way! Unctuous praise is universally recognised as the kind of praise you wouldn't want to receive! – FumbleFingers Mar 29 '12 at 16:24
@FumbleFingers: Vitriol is corrosive (and presumably honest); unction is soothing (and frequently dishonest). I still think they're pretty good antonyms. – Mark Bannister Mar 29 '12 at 17:21
Well I can't deny that, but as I noted in a comment to my own answer, the word vitriolic is in fact more common than vitriol. So if you're providing an antonym, particularly given that OP has mentioned praise as his primary context, it really needs to work as an adjective that you can apply to praise. – FumbleFingers Mar 29 '12 at 17:25
It may be true that vitriolic is more common than vitriol, but the question asked for an antonym for the latter. I think "balm", which you mentioned in your comment to your own answer, is also a pretty good antonym to "vitriol", though I'm not sure I'd want to supply a "balmy" answer. ;) – Mark Bannister Mar 29 '12 at 17:57
Yeah - so far, only honeyed and ambrosial really seem to work there. I admit I had to dig a bit to find my quoted balsamic words. – FumbleFingers Mar 29 '12 at 19:08

Vitriol literally means extremely strong acid, usually sulphuric acid.

In terms of its effect on a person, the antonym would be balm, balsam or unction or some like thing, as others have already posted. One burns, the other soothes.

So the antonym of Vitriolic would literally be Balmy, Balsamic or Unctious. Unfortunately they all have negative associations, with insanity, vinegar, and false ingratiation, respectively.

So a better antonym for Vitriolic is probably Soothing.

Edit: I just noticed FumbleFingers' suggestion of Salve, which together with Salving are a good pair for this purpose if you need a pair, and are in common use. (Etymologically, Salve/Salving are the same as Save/Saving, but Salve commonly means Ointment, and Salving is used for Soothing)

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I just noticed @fumbleFingers suggestion of Salve and Salving which is even better. – Ben Mar 29 '12 at 9:38

I second the nomination for balm. From Wordnik:

Balm - n. An aromatic or soothing salve or oil; a soothing, healing, or comforting agent or quality; anything which heals, soothes, or mitigates pain.

v. To anoint with balm, or with anything medicinal. To soothe; to mitigate.

Example: “But there was no indication that the move would be more than a short-term balm for the crisis engulfing the Eurozone.”

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I would just go with laudanum. About as far from vitriol as I can imagine, assuming you're just seeking a liquid noun.

Also, for your "liquid ... figuratively to mean high praise" notion, note that from etymonline, laudanum is

perhaps from L. laudere "to praise," or from L. ladanum "a gum resin"

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Right now I can't think of a liquid that by itself is a solid antonym. But given you're using the noun form of vitriol, and it often comes with a verb that can also work with a liquid, it seems to me that using a liquid-connoting verb could help make some nouns function as a liquid that normally don't.

  • Spew vitriol
  • Shower blessings/compliments/kindness
  • Pour praise/accolades/encouragement

However, it's not always used with such a verb, as in "I've had enough of your vitriol." I still can't think of a liquid that would fit this construction, and be understood as an antonym or anything close.

The best I can do so far is: "I've had enough of your honeyed talk."

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