Each week The Sun's John McIntyre presents a relatively obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar, another brick to add to the wall of your vocabulary. This week's word:
In a word: anodyne
Linguists call it "semantic drift." Words start out with concrete meanings and develop metaphoric ones. Innocuous words turn into pejoratives. Over time a single word can amass quite a number of distinct, and sometimes contrary, senses.
Anodyne (pronounced AN-oh-dine) started out in English in the sixteenth century mainly as a medical term. Deriving from the Greek an, "without" and odyne, "pain," it meant "having the power to assuage pain." As a noun, it identified a drug, a painkiller.
From that point it took on the added sense of "soothing" in general.
By the seventeenth century, drift had carried it to the point of meaning "innocuous," "inoffensive," and from there it traveled to the sense common in the twentieth century to the present, "bland," or "vapid." A nice bit of drift, moving from a welcome pain reliever to something bland and faintly contemptible.
Example: From Joanna Trollope's The Rector's Wife (1991): "Celia and Elaine were having a carefully anodyne conversation about the church fete."
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