Word of the Day: Sublimate

By Daniel Scocco

Sublimate, in chemistry, means to purify a substance or to transform a compound from solid to gas state (without passing through the liquid one). In psychology, on the other hand, it means to direct a sexual impulse to a more accepted social activity (e.g., art or sports), thus calming the sexual impulse.

For Mailer, incest represents the sick inversion of everything he cherishes: expansion of the self beyond one’s origins; the gift of empathy with the other; the ability to sublimate love into work and vice versa. (NY Times)

It’s not unlike followers of Zellweger’s anti-male manifesto in Down With Love who gobble chocolate to sublimate their animal urges. (USA Today)

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5 Responses to “Word of the Day: Sublimate”

  • Eric C

    I love this word.

  • Cat Woods

    Totally agree with Eric. Who couldn’t love a word with so much…impulse?

  • Miriam

    The chemistry definition you give is wrong.

    Sublimate means to transform directly from the solid to the gas state, as dry ice does. It does not mean to purify.

  • Brad K.

    Thanks, Miriam, that was my understanding, too.

    My Chambers dictionary gives “to purify by sublimation”.

    As for the psychology angle, “to direct unconsciously (a primitive impulse such as an aggressive or sexual impulse) into a higher or more socially acceptable action; to direct into a higher channel. (chem) a product of sublimation, especially a corrosive sublimate.

  • Daniel Scocco

    @Miriam and Brad K., I believe both meanings are correct.

    Sublime does mean to purify too, and the process of purification involves the sublimation of a compound (which is the transformation from solid to gas state, as you mentioned). Here is a quote from wikipedia:

    “Sublimation is a technique used by chemists to purify compounds. Typically a solid is placed in a vessel which is then heated under vacuum. Under this reduced pressure the solid volatilizes and condenses as a purified compound on a cooled surface.”

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