Printable Version
Pronunciation: bay-nêl, bê-nl, bê-nahl Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: Commonplace, boringly ordinary, utterly unremarkable.

Notes: It is high time we decide how we are going to pronounce this not at all uncommon word. Our British friends prefer the last of the three pronunciations above and Americans can't decide between the first two, so the confusion, it seems, will continue. The noun from this adjective, banality, has only one common pronunciation: [bê-n-lê-ti]. The adverb, banally, and the verb, banalize, can also only be pronounced one way: [bay-nê-li] and [bay-nê-laiz].

In Play: Today's word comes with a negative connotation: "Perry Yare considers life in Lollapalooza, Louisiana, far too banal for a sophisticated urbanite like himself." Things banal are not just ordinary but crashingly ordinary: "After a day of bungee-jumping, I'm not in the mood for anything so banal as a game of gin rummy."

Word History: Today's Good Word is derived from ban, which now refers to a prohibition. In Old English, though, a ban was a summons, a public proclamation requiring or prohibiting some action on the part of the populace. Since these proclamations were usually posted in a square or commons, the adjective referring to them eventually came to mean "common, known by everyone" and thence to "trite, commonplace". So, the meanings of ban and banal have both shifted dramatically since they parted company back in the early 19th century. The root, ban, goes back to an ancient word meaning "to speak", which turned up in Latin as fama "common talk, rumor", which we borrowed from French after that language had remolded it into fame. (Today we thank Lew Jury, whose Good Word suggestions, as you can see, are anything but banal.)

Dr. Goodword,

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