Monday, April 28, 2008

Vapid is as vapid does

From KarenM in comments:

Perhaps it's time for a post about synonyms for vapid?

Good idea! Here's my list:



Anybody else?

Additions from comments (5/9/08):



John Cowan said...

I looked in the OED for the older, literal senses of vapid. Most of 'em are directly tied to the original French/Latin sense 'flavorless', such as the meaning 'scentless' (of flowers) or the meaning 'weak' (of a flavor).

But there's another sense, a medical one, by which vapid blood used to mean 'weak, inert, fusionless'. I think this may have contributed something to the modern sense: vapid conversation lacks not only zest but also weight; it is both tedious and vacuous. This is something I don't think your list of synonyms quite captures.

But I may be quite wrong. A good corpus investigation is probably called for!

Karen M said...

Some great synonyms, F,MD! I must have just missed seeing this... lots of birthdays lately in between work weeks.

Frankly, my dear, ... said...

John, I noted the reference to "vapid blood" in OED also, but thought of it as a dead end. It originated in the 17th century, when the nature and function of blood was just beginning to be understood, and it has hardly survived as a technical term in modern hematology. I'd consider it simply a semantic transfer to a new domain, but taking its meaning from the contemporary usage. It indicates what the marketers of Geritol™ would call "tired blood" (also not a technical term).

Whether "vapid blood" contributed to the modern usage or not is hard to say, but I agree that the modern sense includes not only a lack of flavor, but also of weight, or substance more generally.

I'm not sure that "inert" captures the modern usage, but "vacuous" certainly does so I'll add it to the list along with "tired" and, particularly with respect to contemporary press coverage "hackneyed" (I wouldn't say "hackneyed blood" though).

Frankly, my dear, ... said...

Thanks, Karen, but I was hoping you'd have some to add. But, interestingly, I've just notices that vapid captures the nuance of both "uninspiring" and "uninspired". There's a worthwhile additon.

Karen M said...

Hi, frankly, my dear....

I really wanted to add some, but was already late, and so just left that short note so you'd know I'd been here.

For some reason I thought of anemic, not because it's actually a synonym, but because it captures (for me) some of the weakness of vapid.

And I found this online looking for its etymology (still wondering about anemia): vapid Look up vapid at
1656, "flat, insipid" (of drinks), from L. vapidus "flat, insipid," lit. "that has exhaled its vapor," related to vappa "stale wine," and probably to vapor "vapor." Applied from 1758 to talk and writing deemed dull and lifeless.

Apparently, vapor (i.e., losing it) is key. Anemia is characterized by the loss of oxygen in the bloodstream....

Jeff W said...

I always thought vapid meant "emptied or or lacking content" but, apparently, that's vacuous.

Actually, I think Glenn, in using vapid, actually means something closer to vacuous. My impression, anyway. (Or maybe, because I didn't know what the word actually meant, I just assumed he did.)