1. a volatile situation can suddenly change or become more dangerous
a. someone who is volatile can quickly become angry or violent
b. a volatile religion or country is a place where violence is likely to develop suddenly
2. in science, a volatile liquid or substance can easily change into a gas
Origin and usage
The word volatile comes from the Latin word ‘volatilis’ meaning ‘fleeting, rapid, flying’. Its use in English dates back to the 1590s, when the word volatile was used to describe something that was ‘fine or light’ or ‘evaporating rapidly’. The modern use of the word, ‘readily changing or fickle’, dates to the 1640s.
The word volatile is an adjective often used to describe something or someone that is dangerous or has the potential to become dangerous very quickly and suddenly. Volatile also describes a situation that is unstable or uncertain: the stock market or a nation’s economy can be volatile, for example.
Another common use of the word volatile is in chemistry, when it is used to describe a group of substances called volatile organic compounds. These substances change from solids or liquids to gases easily and are found in many typical household items.
Volatile organic compounds (also referred to as VOCs) are found in personal care products like perfumes and nail polish, citrus or pine cleaning agents, household adhesives, solvents used to clean cars or small engine parts, and aerosol sprays like hairspray or spray paint.
Though VOCs are very common, they can be harmful for some people if they are breathed in, swallowed or touched. Long-term exposure to these volatile chemicals can cause many health problems, and a person’s age and overall health also play a role.
“As love without esteem is capricious and volatile; esteem without love is languid and cold.”
dangerous, argumentative, combative
View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.
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