Soporific effort

Yesterday's New York Times had an article about the ongoing political upheaval in Lebanon, and it contained this line about the former prime minister, Saad Hariri, who lost his post after Hezbollah gathered enough support for its candidate:

  • "Mr. Hariri is somnolent, famous in political circles for saying few words."

The context seems to imply that somnolent has something to do with reticence, but it doesn't. American Heritage defines it as:

  • 1. Drowsy; sleepy.
  • 2. Inducing or tending to induce sleep; soporific.

I presume the writer meant it in the latter sense.  Putting people to sleep is the oldest sense of the word, according to the OED, which has a circa 1475 quotation for it in that sense. The OED's first quotation of the drowsy, sleepy sense is from 1547.

The AHD's etymology for somnolent: from the "Middle English sompnolent, from Old French, from the Latin somnolentus : somnus, meaning sleep + -olentus, meaning abounding in."

Incidentally, I was reading this article on my new Kindle, which has a built-in dictionary you can use while reading something else, giving me a quick definition without having to get up. Pretty useful and cool. (More on the Kindle once I've had it for a few weeks.)