Baleful and Baneful

A reader asks,
Would you please tell me the difference between “baleful” and “baneful.” I know both adjectives relate to “evil.”
Both of these adjectives derive from ancient Old English words.
In Beowulf, a bane is a murderer.
By extension, bane came to mean anything that causes destruction. In time, bane came to be a synonym for poison. The element appears in the names of several plants that have poisonous properties:
henbane (Hyoscyamus niger)
dogbane (Apocynum)
wolfsbane (Aconitum lycoctonum)
A common name for rat poison (especially white arsenic) is ratsbane.
In modern usage the meaning of baneful at its strongest is pernicious; at its mildest, harmful. Here are some examples:
The authors neglect the baneful effect of the gold standard in their discussion of the Great Depression and other economic periods. 
The Baneful Consequences of the U.S. Dietary Guidelines
He deplores the general decline of handwriting and the baneful effect on communication. 
On the one hand, there is persuasive evidence that gender bias, gender segregation, and gender discrimination still exist and still have a baneful effect on access.
The Old English word bealu (the source of bale in baleful) may be translated variously as harm, injury, ruin, evil, mischief, and wickedness. A bealu could be a wound or anything unpleasant.
In modern usage, the adjective baleful is used in the sense of threatening:
And as he spoke his eyes gleamed, and again that baleful smile passed over his face.
A baleful star, come to cause us harm
IRS Turning Its Baleful Gaze At Company Cafeterias That Churn Out Free Food
Sometimes the phrase “a baleful look” seems to be used as the equivalent of “an accusing look” or “a dirty look”:
I have one-sided conversations with the dog (who at best cocks his head quizzically at me but most often casts me a baleful look).
Kevin sat on my bed giving me baleful looks.
When I called out to her, she turned and gave me what could only be described as a baleful look. 
As the reader suggests, both baneful and baleful carry connotations of evil. Some speakers do use the words interchangeably, but there’s a difference.
In the following examples the word baneful (harmful) would be the clearer choice:
The baleful effect of computer benchmarks upon applied mathematics, physics and chemistry. (Title of a paper by a mathematics professor).
First, since the evidence suggests that computer technologies generally improve student achievement overall, and no baleful results were found, there should be more computer use by students regardless of social class or geographic location. (From an academic paper about technology and education).
Bale (evil) is no longer used apart from the adjective baleful, but the word bane continues to be used as a stand-alone noun in the sense of “a person who makes another completely miserable” or “the agent or instrument of ruin or woe”:
My ex-husband is the bane of my happiness.
Edward Snowden continues to be the bane of U.S. government surveillance and spy operations. 
Opium had in fact been the bane of the economic and social life of the Assamese people.
Bradford pear one of life’s many botanical banes
Fleas are the bane of my existence.
Baleful conveys menace, whereas baneful connotes definite harm.
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Source: Vocabulary

Anglos and Saxons Before England

A reader wonders about the terms Anglos and Saxons:
I have often heard the term Anglo-Saxon, but never just Anglos or Saxons. However, I learned that these are two separate people groups from different areas (of what I guess is Northern Europe). If what I learned is accurate, from what countries are the Anglos, and from what countries are the Saxons? I appreciate any help. I’ve been trying to confirm this information since I was in college. 
In the fifth century, when the Teutonic invasions of Britain began, the map of Europe did not conform to the way the countries are arranged there today.
Picture northern Europe, starting at Denmark on the Jutland Peninsula and descending along the coast opposite England, down to Belgium. In the fifth century, these lands were inhabited by tribes known as Jutes, Angles, Saxons, Frisians, and Franks. All were Germanic in ethnicity and language. A mix of these tribes migrated to England in the fifth and sixth centuries C.E.
The earliest historical reference to these invasions occurs in the Ecclesiastical History of the English People (731 C.E.) of the Venerable Bede. He refers only to the Angles, the Saxons, and the Jutes by name.
The Celtic people who already lived in Britain called all the Germanic invaders “Saxons.” Latin writers came to refer to all the invaders as Angli and the country as Anglia. The Latin title of Bede’s history is Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum.
When the time came for the invaders to write in the vernacular, they all called the language they spoke Englisc (English). The name derives from the name for the Angles (Engle) but was used for all the dialects the invaders spoke.
If you want to associate modern terms with these peoples, the Saxons, Franks, and Frisians were “German-Dutch.” The Angles were “southern Danish,” and the Jutes were “northern Danish.”
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Source: Vocabulary

Offendotron and Microagression

New words for me this week are offendotron and microagression. Both relate to a much-discussed topic: giving and taking offense.
I found the word offendotron in an article by Martin Daubney. I couldn’t find it in either the OED or Merriam-Webster, but the Urban Dictionary defines it:
offendotron: Person offended by anything, however innocuous.
Like offendotron, microaggression has yet to make it into my big dictionaries, but unlike the O word, microaggression already enjoys wide use.
According to an article on the blog Ricochet, the Student Government Association at Ithaca University in upstate New York, “concerned about the problem of microaggression,” is considering the creation of a tracking system “that students can use to anonymously report incidents of perceived bias on campus.”
The word was coined by Harvard professor Chester Pierce in 1970 as a term for “the insults and dismissals” inflicted on black Americans by non-black Americans. Since then, the meaning has been expanded to include sexist and other remarks:
The concept of microaggression has leapt from the shadows of academic writing into the bright light of general conversation, especially in the wake of widely consulted work by professors Derald Wing Sue and Madonna Constantine over the last seven or so years. Microaggressions, as these academics describe them, are quiet, often unintended slights—racist or sexist—that make a person feel underestimated on the basis of their color or gender.—John McWhorter, Time Magazine, March 21, 2014.
Aggression is an openly hostile act against someone. Aggressors are conscious that they are being offensive.
Microaggression, on the other hand, is an act that is not necessarily perceived as hostile by the person who commits it.
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Source: Vocabulary

Common, Mutual, and Reciprocal

A reader objects to the expression “a mutual friend”:
I don’t care if Dickens did write a novel called Our Mutual Friend. Using “mutual” to describe a friend you didn’t know was also a friend of someone else is a misuse of the word.
Mutual and reciprocal both mean, “directed toward each other.” For example, a “mutual admiration society” is a group of people who admire one another. “Mutual enemies” are people who hate one another. By the same token, “mutual friends” are people who reciprocate friendly feelings toward one another.
Many speakers—perhaps most—use the phrase “mutual friend” in the following context:
Sam is Joe’s friend. Sam is also Gloria’s friend.
Joe and Gloria are friends, but they don’t know that Sam is a friend to both.
One day, in speaking with Sam, Gloria learns that he just got back from a fishing trip with Joe.
The next time that Gloria speaks to Joe, she exclaims, “Guess what! We have a mutual friend.”
Purists would label this use as incorrect, arguing that the friendship between Joe and Gloria is mutual, but that Sam is “a friend in common.”
One definition of common is “belonging equally to more than one.” We speak of “common sense,” “common beliefs,” “common interests,” and “common complaints.” Another meaning of common, perhaps more prevalent in British usage than American, is vulgar.
Dickens could have named his book Our Common Friend, but he probably didn’t want the title to be interpreted to mean Our Vulgar Friend. The use of mutual might not have been strictly correct in the context, but its use eliminates misunderstanding.
The Chicago Manual of Style includes a caveat against the use of mutual to describe a “third-party” friend:
What is common is shared by two or more people: “borne by different mothers but having a common father.” What is mutual is reciprocal or directly exchanged by and toward each other: “mutual obligations.” Strictly, friend in common is better than mutual friend in reference to a third person who is a friend of two others.
The OED has this to say about the use of “mutual friend” to mean “friend in common”:
This use has in the past been censured as incorrect but it is nevertheless frequent. It has probably been used in preference to common on account of the ambiguity of the latter (which in many contexts could also mean ‘ordinary’, ‘mean’, or ‘vulgar’).
In my view, objecting to the use of “mutual friend” in the sense of “a friend in common” is officious nitpicking.
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Source: Vocabulary


A reader asks,
Could you please explain the roots of the word “grassroots”? I sometimes wonder what the connection between people and grass is! 
Grass has a great deal to do with people. Grass is a powerful archetypal symbol that works at the unconscious level to stir a variety of emotions.
In his short, emotionally powerful poem called “Grass,” Carl Sandburg uses the symbol of grass to convey the waste and ultimate meaninglessness of war:
Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.
Shovel them under and let me work—
I am the grass; I cover all…
Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:
What place is this?
Where are we now?
The author of Psalm 103 uses grass to illustrate the brevity of human existence:
As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourishes. For the wind passes over it, and it is gone; and the place where it was shall know it no more.
The importance of grass to human beings is rooted deep in the unconscious. Grasslands once covered up to 25 to 40 percent of the earth’s land surface. Grass feeds animals that feed people. The roots of grass are so interconnected that damage to one small patch threatens the whole.
New grass signals the coming of spring. In fact, grass was once used as a name for spring or early summer: “She was five years old this grass.”
One meaning of the term grassroots is “the fundamental level; the source or origin,” as illustrated by this citation in the OED:
Not till I came to Shamlegh could I meditate upon the Course of Things, or trace the running grass-roots of Evil. —Kipling, 1901.
Because grass is rooted in the earth, grassroots has become a term for “the common people.”
In the context of politics, grassroots is used as both noun and adjective in reference to society at the local level.
These observations at a political site called Renew America illustrate some of the meanings politicians attach to the term grassroots:
Any political strategy that depends on broad grassroots support for its success needs to be based on a sound understanding of how the grassroots works. 
By definition, the grassroots is the bottom of the political pyramid, opposite the “establishment,” which controls the top. 
The grassroots is the very essence of politics. It is dumping tea in a harbor, or standing up and testifying at a local city council meeting. It is that whole realm of politics beyond official station.
Grassroots is only one of several idioms that refer to grass. I’ll save the others for another post.
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Source: Vocabulary

Diffusion Confusion

The Latin verb diffundere, “to pour in different directions,” gives us the noun diffusion, the verb diffuse, and the adjective diffuse. The noun and the adjective present few difficulties, but the verb is often used ambiguously or incorrectly.
Note: The si in diffusion represents the zh sound. The adjective is pronounced with a soft s sound; the verb is pronounced with a hard s sound:
diffusion noun /di-FJU-zhn/
diffuse adjective /di-FJUS/
diffuse verb /di-FJUZ/
The noun diffusion refers to the action of spreading or dispersing something.
In the context of physics, diffusion is “the permeation of a gas or liquid between the molecules of another fluid placed in contact with it.”
Photographers and painters use the word diffusion to refer to “the process of slightly scattering a portion of the image-forming light to give a pleasing artistic softness to a photograph [or painting].”
Figuratively, diffusion refers to the spreading or scattering of people, customs, or knowledge:
In his Researches into the Early History he ascribes the curious custom of couvade to diffusion, an interpretation that few modern ethnologists would countenance.
Carnegie donated $300,000 to build Washington, D.C.’s oldest library. The building was “dedicated to the diffusion of knowledge.”
The adjective diffuse means “spreading out.” A tree, for example, might have “diffuse branches.” A “diffuse writing style” is wordy. An artist paints a picture in which the light is “diffuse and ethereal.” A population that is not concentrated in one area, but scattered over a region, is diffuse:
Variation in state laws is related to whether the gay and lesbian population is concentrated (where laws permit inequality) or diffuse (where laws promote equality).—The Washington Post.
Like the other words derived from diffundere, the verb diffuse conveys the sense of “scattering or spreading abroad”:
The Japanese intended to diffuse Japanese language and culture throughout the archipelago.
Efforts have been made to diffuse Christianity throughout the world. 
When an artist diffuses the light in a painting, the particles of paint that represent light are spread out, producing a softened effect. Perhaps it is this use of diffuse that causes some speakers to use diffuse as if it means “to soften” or “to make less tense.” For example:
While there have been signs that China’s leadership is taking some initiatives intended to diffuse the situation, there are no indications whatsoever that the present tough policy on Tibet will mellow.—Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.
Or, the writer of the above example may have confused the words diffuse and defuse.
Literally, the verb defuse means “to remove the fuse from an explosive device.” Taking the fuse out of a bomb makes it totally ineffective.
Figuratively, defuse means “to make a situation less tense” or “to make something ineffective.”
If the intended meaning is “make less tense” or “forestall,” ambiguity may be avoided by choosing defuse or some word other than diffuse to express it. Here are some options:
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Source: Vocabulary


I learn a great many new words as I cruise the Web collecting examples of usage for my posts. This week I learned polyamory:
polyamory: the fact of having simultaneous close emotional relationships with two or more other individuals, viewed as an alternative to monogamy, especially in regard to matters of sexual fidelity; the custom or practice of engaging in multiple sexual relationships with the knowledge and consent of all partners concerned.
The adjective is polyamorous.
An article in The Atlantic describes the living conditions of three people who practice polyamory:
All three live there together, but they aren’t roommates—they’re lovers. Or rather, Jonica and Michael are. And Sarah and Michael are. And so are Sarah and whomever she happens to bring home some weekends. And Michael and whomever he might be courting. They’re polyamorous.
According to the Atlantic article,
Polyamorous people still face plenty of stigmas, but some studies suggest they handle certain relationship challenges better than monogamous people do.
This new demographic has already acquired a shortened form in headlines:
Poly demographic survey in the UK
What Do Polys Want?: An Overview of the 2012 Loving More Survey
Academic papers are being written on the polyamorous life style:
Not Monogamous? Not a Problem: A Quantitative Analysis of the Prevalence of Polyamory
The words polyamory and polyamorous show up on the Ngram Viewer in the 1980s, rising precipitately in the 1990s.
Here are some more familiar terms used to describe various types of sexual relationship that differ from monogamy:
extramarital sex
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Source: Vocabulary

Who vs. That: Rule or Stylistic Choice?

On this language site and others, readers often question a writer’s choice of that instead of who to refer to a person. Here are some typical comments:

As the word “that” [in this sentence] refers to human beings, shouldn’t the relative pronoun be “who”?

English is my second language, and it hurts to see the rampant disrespect everywhere for “a person who.” Why did you write “person that” and not “person who”?

When I see “that” used instead of “who” to refer to people, it alerts me and, sure enough, the prose or speech that follows is usually sub-par.

The use of “that” for “who” is something that has come about due to the lack of education about the topic.

I blame the Americans for starting the habit of using “that” instead of “who” to refer to persons.

It is just plain ugly usage to have the word “that” replace “who.”

Strong convictions can be a good thing, but when it comes to the merits of who and that as relative pronouns with human antecedents, a little historical knowledge is relevant.

relative pronoun: a pronoun that combines the function of a personal or demonstrative pronoun with that of a conjunction, subordinating one sentence or clause to another.

Relative pronouns were a late development in English and other Indo-European languages. According to a note in the OED, Indo-European had no relative pronouns. The earliest form of English managed without them by means of parataxis.

parataxis: the placing of clauses one after another, without connecting words to show the relation between them.

Albert C. Baugh refers to the development of relative pronouns in A History of the English Language:

Refinements in the use of subordinate clauses are a mark of maturity in style. As the loose association of clauses (parataxis) gives way to more precise indications of logical relationship and subordination (hypotaxis) there is need for a greater variety of words effecting the union.

Again quoting Baugh, “[that was] the almost universal relative pronoun, used for all genders, throughout the Middle English period.”

The use of which began to alternate with that in the 15th century. At first, which was used only with neuter antecedents, but was sometimes used with persons. This use of which to refer to persons is reflected in the Protestant version of the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father Which art in Heaven.”

The use of who as a relative pronoun to refer to people is a development of the 16th century. Many speakers, myself included, feel that who is usually the first choice when the antecedent is human, but recognize that its use is a stylistic choice and not a matter of rule. Sometimes that may be the better choice.

The most that can be said regarding the relative pronouns who, that, and which is this:

Who is for people and which is for things, but that has always stood for either.

Related posts
Parataxis and Hypotaxis
Should ‘that’ Be Allowed To Stand In For ‘Who’?

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Source: Daily Tips

Sentence Adverbs

Not all adverbs end in -ly, but many do.

Like all adverbs, -ly adverbs are used to add meaning to verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. For example:

Jones deals honestly with all his customers. (adverb modifying the verb deals)

The lecture on adiabatic and isochoric kinetics was mercifully brief. (adverb modifying the adjective brief)

The concert is over. You are unfortunately late. (adverb modifying the adverb late)

Some -ly adverbs can also be used to modify an entire sentence. For example:

Honestly, most television comedies are unbearably vulgar. (adverb modifying entire sentence)

Mercifully, the blast was prevented by the swift arrival of the fire brigade. (adverb modifying entire sentence)

Fortunately, the ship stayed afloat long enough for all the passengers to be rescued. (adverb modifying entire sentence)

In each of these examples, the adverb at the beginning of the sentence is set off by a comma and conveys the attitude of the speaker toward the entire thought being expressed.

Generally speaking (as opposed to more precise classifications in linguistics) adverbs used in this way are called “sentence adverbs.” Here is a list of other adverbs that may be used as sentence adverbs:


Note: Some last-ditch language sticklers reject the right of hopefully to be included in this list. According to these cranky holdouts, the only meaning for hopefully that “careful writers” should recognize is “with hope,” as in “My dog Cash stared hopefully at the treat jar.” They reject the notion that hopefully can also be used to introduce a sentence with the sense of “I hope” or “it is to be hoped,” as in this sentence: “Hopefully, the new millage will pass, and we can expand the library.”

English speakers have been using hopefully as a sentence adverb for eighty years at least—possibly longer. “Careful writers” may continue to avoid its use as they wish, but ridiculing its use by others is bad form.

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Source: Daily Tips

Passionate and Impassioned

A reader wonders about the words passionate and impassioned:
Do they mean the same thing? If not, when should you use one and not the other?
The word passion derives from a Latin verb that means “to suffer” or “to undergo.” One use of the noun is to name the sufferings of Jesus. For example, a “passion play” is a performance that reenacts the arrest and death of Jesus. The title of Dreyer’s play about the trial of Joan of Arc is called The Passion of Joan of Arc in reference to her sufferings, which the filmmaker felt paralleled the sufferings of Christ.
Another sense of passion is “strong emotion.” It can refer to sexual passion or to a strong emotion like anger or indignation.
A passionate person is readily swayed by emotions. In such expressions as “a passionate kiss” and “a passionate embrace,” the connotation is usually sexual.
Someone swayed by strong feelings about some nonsexual purpose might be described as “a passionate reformer,” or “a passionate preacher.” Sports enthusiasts are said to be “passionate about football.”
Although the words are mostly synonymous, impassioned perhaps has the connotation of strong feeling rooted in conviction.
Here are some recent examples of both adjectives as used on the Web:
The actor then applied to the Grand Duke, and the latter, a passionate lover of dogs, signified his desire that the request be granted.
Part II explores the ways that prosecutorial passion might affect plea.
Because marriage is for the rest of my life, I think it will be more enjoyable if I married a person who is like a friend, as opposed to marrying for passionate love.
WVU Women’s Basketball Carey wants passionate effort against Oklahoma
Freida Pinto Gave An Impassioned Feminist Speech Every Woman And Man Needs To Hear
Impassioned crowds protest Ferguson decision in Boston
Synonyms for passionate when the context is sexual:
Synonyms for passionate in other contexts:
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Source: Vocabulary

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