Friday, January 27, 2012

Oh, For the Love of Words! Friday (3) Venal v. Venial


On Fridays, I celebrate words. That means that I either share a new vocabulary word that I've recently learned or a passage of particularly beautiful prose that I've encountered in past or present literary sojourns. Did you learn a new SAT word this week? Did you read a passage eight times over and dab tears from your eyes at the beauty of it? Then, please, do share!

 Venal v. Venial

These two similar "v" words popped out at me this week, from the pages of The Likeness by Tana French. I asked Nathan if he knew the definitions, and, without skipping a beat, he said, "Venal is an adjective frequently used to describe hermaphrodites. And venial is the opposite of congenial." Hmmm. Interesting. And incorrect on all counts. But it made me laugh. 

From context clues, I figured out that venial meant trivial. And though I could deduce that venal wasn't a compliment, figuring out the definition involved a few clicks of the mouse and tabbing open dictionary.com. Here are the passages from the text:

Getting over-enthusiastic, needing to prove yourself after a bad slipup: those were things Frank could understand, things that happened all the time, and they're venial sins.   
As soon as rulers mean nothing, war means nothing; human life means nothing. We're ruled by venal little usurpers, all of us, and they make meaninglessness everywhere they go.



Venial (adj)
          able to be forgiven or pardoned; excusable; trifling

Venal (adj)
         willing to sell one's influence; open to bribery; corruptible


 Bonus to me if I can actually use one of these words in conversation this week!

(Incidentally, The Likeness is French's weakest book. Skip that one and go right for Faithful Place, which I'm gonna be posting about soon.)

3 comments:

Anne said...

Thanks for the definitions, I feel like I learned a little something today!

SaraO said...

I love Nathan that much more for actually knowing, off the top of his head, the meaning of those words.

Very sexy

I hope you rewarded him for his vocabulary prowess.

RachelKiwi said...

haha, are you joking, sara? i can't pick up subtleties and nuance just with these few words.