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enervate-watch 2

April 30, 2012

He’s at it again. In today’s Indie, Ian Herbert on the sports pages says that ‘Some will doubt the potential of [Hodgson’s] 4-4-2 systems to enervate either fans or his players’. Obviously enervate is here intended to mean excite, rather than its true meaning, which is to weaken, debilitate or dispirit – etymologically, to remove the nerve from (e-nerv-ate). Where did Herbert get the idea that it means to excite?

Presumably it is because enervate sounds vaguely similar to energise. It’s not uncommon for a word to be assimilated to another word which sounds similar – think of fortuitous drifting away to become a synonym for fortunate, or laconic becoming a synonym for ironic. But the case of enervate is unusual, in that by this process it’s acquiring a meaning which isn’t just different from its original meaning, but diametrically opposite to it. Can we stop this? I’d like to think so, but I doubt it.

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