Endearing and Ravished

By Maeve Maddox

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English has such a rich vocabulary, writers have little excuse to use a word that is almost right.

As Twain famously put it,

The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. ’tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.

Two adjectives that writers may want to think twice about using are endearing and ravished.

endearing
The modern sense of to endear is “to render (a person) dear to another; to inspire or create approval for (a person or thing). The adjective, endearing, means “arousing feelings of love or affection.”

The verb appears frequently in contexts with the connotation of approval-seeking. For example, an event is attended by political candidates “hoping to strengthen their name recognition and endear themselves to voters.” A fast food chain pays workers “way above industry standards…which endears the chain to left-leaning customers.”

The adjective endearing, on the other hand, is more at home in contexts focused on lovableness.

Endearing is a gentle word, usually applied to children, small animals, and sweetly eccentric or kindhearted people.

The endearing character of Elle Woods from the movie Legally Blonde comes to mind.

In my opinion, Barbara Havers is modern crime fiction’s most endearing misfit.

Ever endearing, Hanks captures the spirit of [Mr.] Rogers . . .

Here are some synonyms for endearing: lovable, adorable, cute, sweet, dear, delightful, lovely, charming, appealing, attractive, engaging, winning, captivating, enchanting, beguiling, winsome.

None of these meanings suits the use of endearing in the following passage:

Mr. Souozzi, Mr Espaillat, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, and more made endearing speeches about the resilience of the Hellfighters. “the most celebrated regiment of Black soldiers during World War I,”

The occasion was the announcement that the Harlem Hellfighters are going to be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for their heroic service in World War I.

The speakers praised the men of the 369th Infantry Regiment for virtues that should endear them and their memory to the American people, but the speeches praising them were “laudatory speeches,” not “endearing speeches.” [laudatory: expressive of praise]

Some writers waste the word endearing by using it when appealing, sympathetic, or some other adjective would be more to the point.

The writing isn’t horrible, but it is amateurish in a way that is not endearing.

Less endearing are the cabin’s dreary ambience, cheap plastics and vision issues.

He was tragic, endearing, self-loathing, comic, and filled with suppressed rage.

ravished
An article about the most recent Haitian earthquake brought this example to my attention:

It’s been four days now since the 7.2-magnitude earthquake ravished through the south of our mountainous land.

The OED gives twelve definitions for the verb ravish, all but two of which are labeled obsolete, archaic, or rare.

In modern usage, ravish has two main uses, figuratively to mean “to transport (a person, the mind, etc.) with the strength of some emotion:

Be invigorated by Verdi, ravished by Rachmaninov and bowled over by Bernstein.

The latter was ravished by the works he saw in the Musee de l’Homme in Paris.

They find themselves ravished by love lyrics that come over the radio.

and euphemistically, as another word for rape:

Libya was ravished by the god Poseidon to whom she bore twin sons, Belus and Agenor.

Zeus also ravished a boy, Ganymede, a myth that paralleled Cretan custom

A jive-talking soldier ravished the virginal sister.

The word ravish often occurs in contexts that call for the similar word, ravage : to cause severe and extensive damage to.

From behind the tape, the home appeared ravished.

Life in Yangon is slowly getting back to normal after a cyclone ravished the Irrawaddy Delta.

Everyone’s good looks are ravished with time. [ravaged by time]

The figurative use of ravish with the connotation of rape is justified in contexts in which something formerly pristine has been polluted by human activity:

Bali’s image of unspoiled beaches has been ravished by white visitors being offered drugs and sex after dark.

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