Printable Version
Pronunciation: bayl-fêl Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: 1. Miserable, wretched, distressed, suffering. 2. Malicious, injurious, noxious.

Notes: No, today's Good Word has nothing to do with picking or packing cotton; it is derived from a noun that is no longer in use: bale "evil, harm, woe". Bale is the cause of injury and suffering, senses which turn up in baleful. Since bale in this sense is no longer in use, balefulness has replaced it. Balefully works fine as the adverb.

In Play: The second sense of today's word is slipping from our collective grip, so here is a sentence that compares it with the more common meaning: "Rodney came to work a bit baleful (sense 1) this morning after receiving a baleful (sense 2) decision from the IRS last week." Of course, bale is always best detected in the eyes: "Don't look at me with those baleful eyes; you still will not get any ice cream until you clean your room."

Word History: Bale comes from Old English bealu, which seems to have been an offspring of the Proto-Indo-European root bheleu "weak, sick". This root is also responsible for Russian bol' "pain" and bolet' "to be sick, hurt". Some have speculated that the original meaning of this root was "to hit", which would explain the ostensible relationship to blow in the sense of hitting or striking. This is something of a stretch, however, beyond our speculative capacities. (We would be a bit baleful in the second sense above were we not to thank Chris Berry for suggesting today's Good Word. It would probably make him a bit baleful, too—in the first sense.)

Dr. Goodword,

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