Printable Version
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 [bê-nahl]. 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 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 of Norway for suggesting a Good Word that is itself anything but banal.)

Dr. Goodword,

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