Hate and venom; slander and insult; abuse and bitterness—welcome to this week’s Vocab Wednesday, in which all of these things are present.
The ‘mal-‘ root should be a giveaway that this word is negative (‘mal-‘ comes from the Latin malus, which means bad). This word, however, does not mean you have a bad case of lice; it actually means intense spite and ill will. If somebody slashes your tires and bashes in your back window, they have committed an act of malice. If someone eyes you with malice, you better run because that person intends to do something evil.
Rancor is a deep bitterness developed over time. So if you are upset with someone, you probably are feeling something less intense than rancor. Unless, that hatred has been there for years.
Words soaked in venom capture the essence of vituperative, an extreme word for extreme language. Tune into political radio and you are likely to hear a vituperative attack on someone in the executive office. If you don’t live in America, I’m sure pundits willing to eviscerate the government abound — whether on radio or television. You don’t have to go far to hear vituperative language.
Scurrilous veers more toward scandal than hate. But if you are willing to damage a person’s reputation via spreading vicious rumors, then you are probably motivated by a fair amount of malice. Tabloid magazines are factories of scurrility (the noun form of scurrilous), churning out malicious, and often fabricated, stories with the same frequency in which the local weatherman dispenses the daily temps. So any time you see such a magazine, you can think of it as a scurrilous rag — though that sounds awfully scurrilous on my part.
On the hate scale, abominate is in the neighborhood of loathe and detest. Let’s say you dislike Brussels sprouts. You are likely to never buy them, and, if at a guest’s house, you will slyly shunt them to the side if served to you. If you hate Brussels sprouts, you’ll likely make a disgusted face and politely decline anyone ladling them onto your plate. Now, if you abominate Brussels sprouts, you probably own a T-shirt announcing this fact. Anyone who knows you would never even serve them to you in the first place. And if those vile sprouts do end up on your dinner plate, you’ll launch into an invective on how Brussels sprouts lie somewhere between petrified dung and rotten cheese on the edibility scale. (By the way, this is just an example — I actually like Brussels sprouts).
Abhor isn’t as intense as abominate, but still expresses strong hate. Perhaps you started off GRE prep abhorring the fact that you had to learn vocabulary words. Now, though, your hate has attenuated, and while far from smitten, you don’t greet unfamiliar words with nearly as much malice as you used to.