• venal •
Pronunciation: vee-nêl • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: 1. Bribable, corruptible, open to accepting a pay-off in exchange for betraying a trust or duty. 2. Purchasable, for sale, that may be bought, as 'a venal historical relic'.
Notes: We often hear people speak of a "venal sin". The phrase makes no sense so long as sins can neither be bought nor bribed. This misspeak results from confusing today's Good Word and venial. A venial sin is a forgivable sin, a minor one, not a mortal or grievous one. Let's hope that no one reading this behaves venally (the adverb of today's word) or, indeed, is possessed of so much as a trace of venality (the noun).
In Play: Here is an example to help us separate venal and venial: "I'm afraid there is nothing venial about the venal way Hooker Crooke carries out the duties of his office." Now for an example of extreme venality: "Rod Peckinpah is so venal, he would kick his grandmother over just to take bets on which way she would fall."
Word History: Venal comes to us from Latin venalis "salable", based on the noun venum "sale". The original word from which venum is derived contained an S, for it turned up as vasnah "purchase" in Sanskrit and onos "price, purchase" in Greek. In Western Europe the S disappears, for we don't see it in German Gewinn "profit" or English win. Venial evolved via French from Late Latin venialis "forgivable", the adjective for venia "forgiveness, indulgence, mercy". Venia is probably related to the name of Venus, the goddess of sensual love. (It would be more than a venial sin to forget to thank Kyu Ho Youm of the University of Oregon for suggesting today's Good Word.)