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Banal

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Banal

Postby Dr. Goodword » Sun Jul 28, 2013 11:06 pm

• banal •


Pronunciation: bê-næl, bay-nêl • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: Trite, commonplace, drearily pedestrian, boringly ordinary.

Notes: Today's word is one that many English-speaking folk avoid using because we are not sure how to pronounce it. In addition to the two pronunciations given above, the British tend to prefer [bênahl]. Do use this very Good Word with whichever pronunciation fits the flow of your sentence; they are all correct. The noun is banality and the verb, meaning "to make banal", is banalize [bay-nêl-aiz].

In Play: Banal combines the senses of commonplace and boring: "Reality television has helped those of us who think their lives are banal understand the banality of the lives of others." If it is boring, it is likely to be banal: "Francis, what could be more banal than dinner and a movie? Take me bungee-jumping or white-water rafting, for heaven's sake!"

Word History: Today's Good Word comes from Old French banal "related to compulsory feudal service", based on ban "summons to military service". The meaning of our word today then comes from the French sense related to the lives of serfs, which were very ordinary and uninteresting to the keepers of the language in those days. In Old English bannan meant "to proclaim, speak publicly", reflecting the original meaning of the root (bha- "to speak"). This root emerged in Latin as fari "to speak". The present participle of fari is fan(t)s "speaking", so "not speaking" would be infan(t)s—a word which also meant "infant", a non-speaking human being. (Today we thank Kathleen McCune of Norway for suggesting a Good Word that is itself anything but banal.)
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Re: Banal

Postby MTC » Mon Jul 29, 2013 8:10 am

American poet Wallace Stevens spoke eloquently about the deadening effect of banality and routine in The Man whose Pharynx was bad:

The Man whose Pharynx was bad

The time of year has grown indifferent.
Mildew of summer and the deepening snow
Are both alike in the routine I know:
I am too dumbly in my being pent.

The wind attendant on the solstices
Blows on the shutters of the metropoles,
Stirring no poet in his sleep, and tolls
The grand ideas of the villages.

The malady of the quotidian . . .
Perhaps if summer ever came to rest
And lengthened, deepened, comforted, caressed
Through days like oceans in obsidian

Horizons, full of night's midsummer blaze;
Perhaps, if winter once could penetrate
Through all its purples to the final slate,
Persisting bleakly in an icy haze;

One might in turn become less diffident,
Out of such mildew plucking neater mould
And spouting new orations of the cold.
One might. One might. But time will not relent.

(Italics added)
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Re: Banal

Postby call_copse » Mon Jul 29, 2013 8:50 am

Bay-nall? I can honestly say that's a totally new one on me!
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Re: Banal

Postby Philip Hudson » Mon Jul 29, 2013 9:19 am

I am only mildly interested in 20th century poets. Even among 19th century poets I am picky. From the Bard to Dickinson is mostly my range and English poets seem to capture me more than American. Wallace Stevens had escaped my notice until now, although I understand he has quite a following. I find his poem on banality banal. Perhaps that was his intent.
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Re: Banal

Postby Perry Lassiter » Mon Jul 29, 2013 11:49 am

I guess I have prounounced it BAY-nal forever, so I must have heard it enough to stick. Otherwise I would have said bah-nahl, with the accent either way, because of my tendency to pronounce unknown words like classical Spanish.

Stephens has captured it well.
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Re: Banal

Postby LukeJavan8 » Mon Jul 29, 2013 11:54 am

It's always been bay-nal here. Bahnal sounds irritatatingly
last century stuff nose.
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Re: Banal

Postby MTC » Mon Jul 29, 2013 6:15 pm

You say BAY-nal, I say ba-NAHL,
But on flows the Erie Canal.
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Re: Banal

Postby Philip Hudson » Mon Jul 29, 2013 10:17 pm

Or the New York State Barge Canal. The foregoing is a banal statement.
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Re: Banal

Postby Perry Lassiter » Mon Jul 29, 2013 11:32 pm

Would the most banal statement ever made still be banal, or would it become high camp?
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Re: Banal

Postby call_copse » Tue Jul 30, 2013 9:52 am

LukeJavan8 wrote:It's always been bay-nal here. Bahnal sounds irritatatingly
last century stuff nose.


Fair enough - we don't go for bahn-al here though - presumably said to be like a clipped 'barn owl'. It's more a ba-nahl - to me this is more suitably onomatopoeiacally dismissive than a drawn out anal rhyme / meter. But I guess it's what you are accustomed to.
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Re: Banal

Postby Philip Hudson » Tue Jul 30, 2013 4:05 pm

Ian, these little variations in English, whether geographical, educational, or from some other source, help make our language the best language in the world.
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