sensual, sensuous
1. Sensual is the older word (15c), and originally described feelings that involved the senses as distinct from the intellect. As it became more closely associated with aspects of physical indulgence characterized by the expression sensual pleasure (principally sexual but also to do with food), sensuous came into use (first apparently by Milton in 1641) to take over the meanings that sensual had once had in relation to aesthetic rather than carnal sensations.
2. In current usage, this distinction holds good for those who want a rule: (sensual)

• Modigliani appreciated Kisling for what he was, a sweet-natured, high-spirited, sensual young man —J. Rose, 1990

• The Hindu god of love, Kama, is the husband of Rati, the goddess of sensual desire —P. Allardice, 1990

• A good slow, deep, seductive, sensual, sexual kiss can be the very thing that sends someone over the edge in my opinion —weblog, BrE 2005

• (sensuous) All the sensuous elements of the previous years have been banished; colour has been reduced to a severe combination of browns, dull greens and greys —J. Golding, 1988

• The passage exemplifies the distancing effect of simile, and the more sensuous effect of metaphor —E. Black, 1993.

3. But in the hurly-burly of general usage the meanings are too close, and sensuous has begun to go the way of sensual, especially in modern popular fiction:

• He looked forward to this drink, the first of the day, with a sensuous desire —Barbara Vine, 1987

• There was something extremely sensuous about having a man dry her hair, especially this man —A. Murray, 1993.

Although the complex subtleties of sense perception cause meanings to merge into one another, it is prudent to remember the basic distinction when using these words, so that sensuous can retain its full force of meaning in uses that are primarily to do with aesthetics, for example in the context of music or poetry:

• Cesti's great gift was for melody: sensuous and eminently singable —G. Abraham, 1985.

Modern English usage. 2014.

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  • sensuous — sensuous, sensual, luxurious, voluptuous, sybaritic, epicurean are comparable when they mean having to do with the gratification of the senses or providing pleasure by gratifying the senses. Both sensuous and sensual can imply reference to the… …   New Dictionary of Synonyms

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  • sensuous — 1640s, pertaining to the senses coined (from L. sensus) by Milton to recover the original meaning of SENSUAL (Cf. sensual) and avoid the lascivious connotation that the older word had acquired by Milton s day, but by 1870 sensuous, too, had begun …   Etymology dictionary

  • sensuous — index lascivious, physical Burton s Legal Thesaurus. William C. Burton. 2006 …   Law dictionary

  • sensuous — [adj] gratifying to senses carnal, epicurean, exciting, fleshly, fleshy, hedonistic, luscious, lush, luxurious, passionate, physical, pleasurable, pleasure loving, pleasure seeking, primrose, rich, self indulgent, sensory, sensual, sensualistic,… …   New thesaurus

  • sensuous — ► ADJECTIVE 1) relating to or affecting the senses rather than the intellect. 2) attractive or gratifying physically, especially sexually. DERIVATIVES sensuously adverb sensuousness noun. ORIGIN from Latin sensus sense …   English terms dictionary

  • sensuous — adjective 1) they lived amid sensuous surroundings Syn: aesthetically pleasing, gratifying, rich, sumptuous, luxurious; sensory, sensorial 2) sensuous lips Syn: sexually attractive, sexy, seductive, voluptuous …   Thesaurus of popular words

  • Sensuous — Infobox Album Name = Sensuous Type = studio Artist = Cornelius Released = flagicon|Japan October 25, 2006 flagicon|USA April 24, 2007 Recorded = Genre = Shibuya kei, Experimental, Downtempo Length = 46:57 Label = Warner Music Japan Producer =… …   Wikipedia

  • sensuous — [[t]se̱nʃuəs[/t]] 1) ADJ GRADED Something that is sensuous gives pleasure to the mind or body through the senses. The film is ravishing to look at and boasts a sensuous musical score... It is a sensuous but demanding car to drive. Derived words:… …   English dictionary

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