Vengeance and Vindication

By Mark Nichol

Vengeance, vindication, and a few related words are derived from a Latin word pertaining to punishment and retribution. These terms and their definitions are listed in this post.

The forebear, the verb vindicare, means “avenge” and “claim,” though for each of its English descendants, the former sense holds almost exclusive sway. (Interestingly, vindicare may in turn stem from vim dicare, meaning “show authority”; the first word, meaning “force,” has been preserved in the first word in the phrase “vim and vigor,” while the second is the source of dictate, diction, and the like.)

The verb avenge suggests righteous retribution (one who does so is an avenger), while the connotation of revenge suggests malicious retaliation. Revenge is more common as a noun than as a verb (though revenger is not employed to describe one who commits an act of revenge), while vengeance is employed as a noun in place of avenge; the adjectival form is vengeful.

In a political context, revanche, adapted from the French verb revenchier, meaning “revenge,” refers to a policy of reasserting status or recovering territory; the practice is revanchism, and a revanchist is an adherent.

Vindication is synonymous with vengeance, but usually it has the sense of “confirm,” “defend,” or “justify,” or “free from blame”; one who has been accused, then exonerated, is vindicated, and one who performs the vindication is a vindicator. The adjectival form is vindicative, which should not be confused with vindictive, which means “vengeful” or “spiteful.”

For the most part, these terms entered the English language by way of French, but an exception is vendetta, adopted from Italian. Originally, it denoted a feud, especially a deadly one between families or clans that involves back-and-forth retaliation. Now, the sense is of a malignant campaign to discredit or harm someone.

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2 Responses to “Vengeance and Vindication”

  • Dale A. Wood

    It is interesting how some of these words became the nicknames of warplanes. The greatest American torpedo bomber of World War II was the Grumman TBF Avenger, flown by the Navy and the Marines, and under the Lend-Lease program, also by the British, Australians, and New Zealanders, and maybe Canadians, too.

    In the novel & film “Fail Safe”, the fictional USAF bombers were called “Vindicators”, and vindication with hydrogen bombs is heavyweight vindication, indeed. In the images from the film, it is clear that the “Vindicators” were really B-58 “Hustlers”, so named because of their supersonic speed.

    The A-5 “Vigilante” of the U.S. Navy was also intended to extend nuclear vengeance against anyone who attacked the U.S. with nuclear weapons. Then most of the A-5s got converted into the RA-5C reconnaissance version that was flown widely over North Vietnam.

    If was clear that the fighter and bomber of the U.S. Navy, the Grumman F6F “Hellcat” and the Curtis SB2C “Helldiver” were intended to “give hell” to the Imperial Japanese Navy for its sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. The F6F was also flown by the Royal Navy and the Royal Australian Navy.

    Some other bombers/fighters got vicious nicknames like the TBD “Devastator”, B-26 “Marauder”, B-32 “Dominator”, B-66 “Destroyer”, F2H “Banshee”, F3H “Demon”, and F-101 “Voodoo”.

    On a contrasting note, the name of the B-24 “Liberator” indicated that it was intended to help liberate the conquered peoples of Europe from their Nazi domination, and the Filipinos, Guamians, and others from their Japanese rule.

    The huge General Dynamics B-36 “Peacemaker” was clearly intended to keep the peace through the threat of retaliation with hydrogen bombs, and as a matter of fact, no B-36 ever dropped a bomb or fired a shot in anger. The same was true for the B-50 “Superfortress”, B-45 “Tornado”, B-47 “Stratojet”, B-58 “Hustler”, “Blackfire”, “Blackjack”, “Valiant”, “Victor”, or Mirage IV bombers.

    The B-66 Destroyer was mostly flown in its supporting roles as the EB-66, RB-66, and WB-66, rather than as a B-66 bomber, just as the main role for the A-5 was as the RA-5C.

  • Dale A. Wood

    A surprising number of warplanes and missiles got their nicknames from bladed weapons or those who wielded them:
    F-4U “Corsair” and A-7 “Corsair II”, F7U “Cutlass”, F-102 “Delta Dagger”, “Harpoon” missile, B-1B “Lancer”, F-86 “Sabrejet”, F-100 “Super Sabre”, PB4Y “Privateer”, and the British “Buccaneer”.

    I have found it to be interesting that “The Three Musketeers” mostly fought with swords, and that the archer Robin Hood was often seen in the movies fighting with swords in the hands of the likes of Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and Errol Flynn. Zorro was always a swordsman, with his mark of “Z” for Zorro made with flicks of his blade. You can also go for movies like “The Long, Strong Sword of Siegfried”.

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