Word of the Week: banal

Okay, so posting two words of the week within two days does display both my utter disregard for the rules of mathematics and time keeping and also my awareness of my own limitations: I figured a word a day would be far too much for my limited brain; a word a week was a manageable minimum!

Anyway, let’s take a step away from such banal topics as myself and onto the word itself: banal.


What a word!

How utterly and unashamedly judgemental does one have to be to use the word banal to describe anyone else’s opinion, work, writing, appearance or existence. And just to be clear, I have no objection to being judgemental!

From the initial plosive /b/ with which this word is spat out at the poor unsuspecting victim, months of disappointment and despair behind it; to the shift from the initial short /æ/ to the long, sneering, corner-of-lip-raised /a:/ it is a word that encapsulates all that is supercilious, contemptuous and haughty. It is pronounced to rhyme with snarl which is the most appropriate facial expression to be adopted whilst using it.

Banal words function as a feeble phenomena that fall into their own mental bogs of meaning.
Robert Smithson

In science, all facts, no matter how trivial or banal, enjoy democratic equality.
Mary McCarthy

The etymology of the word is equally unfortunate. It derives from Old French “ban” which was used to describe those things which were open and accessible to the general populace, more specifically ovens and mills according to the world wide web, as well as compulsory military service. I can imagine that there was a potential for its meaning to become widened into a word that suggested something like “democratic” or “universal” in the same way that Catholic does. Unfortunately, it came instead to mean “common” and “trite” and “valueless”, the lowest common denominator of moral or intellectual or cultural experience. It is a word that conjures up the questionable joys of a somewhat legendary television show that (I am informed) offers the opportunity for viewers to watch in realtime and at any time the inanities of the frequently undereducated and overinflated egos that populate a mythical and guarded House from which they are not permitted to leave until voted out. It is currently showing on BBC Parliament Channel.


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