Musings on the Uses of “Abash”

By Maeve Maddox

The word abash has always seemed to me to belong more to the literary sphere than to the workplace. That’s why I did a double-take when I read this on a site dedicated to marketing:

A corporation operating in a capitalist society has the obligation to make a profit. It does not have the obligation to make friends, except where/when that would lead to profit. It does not have an obligation to abash itself at every possible opportunity.

I wondered if the word was being used as a synonym for “bash” in the sense of “disparage.”

As a transitive verb abash means

To destroy the self-possession or confidence of (any one), to put out of countenance, confound, discomfit, or check with a sudden consciousness of shame, presumption, error, or the like.  –OED.

Older literature provides plenty of examples of the use of abash as a verb:

That you are a princess does not abash me, but that you are you is enough to make me doubt my sanity as I ask you, my princess, to be mine.” —A Princess of Mars, Edgar Rice Burroughs

The titter that rippled around the room appeared to abash the boy, but in reality that result was caused rather more by his worshipful awe of his unknown idol and the dread pleasure that lay in his high good fortune. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain. (The teacher has just sent Tom to sit with the girls.)

Most of the examples I find in recent writing use the -ed form abashed to describe a person whom a remark or occurrence has caused to feel embarrassed, humiliated, or ashamed.

Bruce had the sense to look abashed as he came out of his office looking dry and handsome and seeing Betty standing next to her desk dripping and wet. (review of an Ugly Betty episode)

Though he does his best to cover himself with his hands and look abashed, Stiller merely comes off as ridiculous. (review of Ben Stiller movie)

She seems to look abashed in her photos all tarted-up for the media. (comment on Scarlett Johansson’s publicity photos)

According to the OED, the reflexive use is obsolete, but it is in use on the web:

don’t abash yourself for jumping the gun

Do You Abash Yourself With These Negotiating Mistakes?

when we believed the GOP could not abash itself any more it …

The strangest–and most abundant–use of abash that I found was in gibberish postings like these:

I deliberate on the most impressive horror you desideratum to do when starting in a home based affair is to figure out your budget before you start and stick to it.  Don’t abash yourself in a fix financially where you last will and testament be hurt if it doesn’t … This is from a site purporting to provide information for running a home based business.

You don t charge to be a hero and do everything, and anticipate of everything, yourself. Abhorrence to acquaint you this but, if you alpha out you DON T understand aggregate ok – so don t abash yourself by cerebration you do…

The second example had a byline. I was surprised that anyone would put her name to such stuff. Then I found one of my own posts transformed into gibberish with my name still attached to it.

A group of fiction sites connector to posts on the DailyWritingTips neighbourhood. We like that. Sometimes they overreach a clear up excerpt followed alongside a connector to the remainder of the article on our neighbourhood. I date nothing falter with that. (Original here)

Bottom line on abash: by all means, use abash when it seems to be just the right word. Just remember that it does not mean the same thing as “bash.”

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3 Responses to “Musings on the Uses of “Abash””

  • Dr. Kay

    I don’t think they’re confusing abash with bash. I think they’re confusing it with abase.

  • JC

    It’s obvious that the writers meant “abase” (to recoil in shame). It’s a common enough typo, and spellcheck (idiot child that it is) will not recognize the difference.

  • sailing

    And the gibberish you cite is most likely a result of overuse of on-line translators.

    For example, using babelfish to translate your first paragraph into German and then back into English produces the following:

    The word shame has seemed always me to belong to the literary range as the job more. That is, why I double-take did, when I read this on a place of assembly, which was inaugurated marketing

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