Printable Version
Pronunciation: in-ayn Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective, Noun

Meaning: 1. (Adjective) Empty, void, vacuous, without sense or substance; insignificant. 2. (Noun) That which is void or empty, empty space, vacuity.

Notes: Today's Good Word is a perfect orphan negative: a negative with no positive form. Someone who is not inane should be "ane", shouldn't they? But this word does not exist. Inane comes with an adverb, inanely, and a noun, inanity. Inanity may be used as a mass or count noun. We may speak of the inanity of someone's mind (mass noun) or of the inanities someone speaks, that is, empty words of no significance. Remember, inane itself may be used in reference to empty space, as the great inane between Gladys Friday's ears.

In Play: An inane environment can lead to boredom for people who are not themselves inane: "Ahn Wee came to North Dakota hoping to escape the inane life she led in her parents' village in China." What is inane to one person, however, can be significant to another: "Donny Brook took a swing at me for making a perfectly inane remark about the weather." Remember that this word is a noun, too: "I think Izzy Dare's mind would be quite at home sailing into the Great Inane, say, as an astronaut, but I wouldn't want to be on a spacecraft he was navigating."

Word History: It is difficult to find any work on the origin of today's Good Word. It comes via French from Latin inanis "empty, useless, vain". Since the Latin word animus means "mind, soul, spirit", we would certainly suspect inanis to be related to it. The prefix in- is usually negative, so it is possible to imagine the original meaning of inanis to have been "mindless, soulless, spiritless". However the A in inanis is a long A and the A in animus is short. This distinction was critical in distinguishing words in Latin, as critical as the difference between two different letters. So we are left with a bag of suspicions but nothing substantive in this word's, well, inane history.

Dr. Goodword,

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