Wednesday, 15 July 2015

‘The bane in my life’? What is a ‘bane’?

The word ‘bane’ is not used very often, if at all anymore, unless we use the idiom ‘bane of my life’ meaning something is annoying or not enjoyable to do. For example, weeds may be the bane of a gardener’s life. ‘Bane’ is a very old word meaning ‘murderer’, and is recorded in the ‘Old English Chronicles’ as early as 800AD. In those days, a bane was a real threat posed to one’s life and safety.

Over time, ‘bane’ drifted in meaning: it went from describing a murderer, to describing poison, i.e. something that causes death such as a poisonous plant. Some poisonous plants still have ‘-bane’ in them: Henbane, Wolfsbane and Ratsbane (another name for rat poison/arsenic). Since then, we have arrived at our version of ‘bane’ which describes something that’s irritating and a complaint; a word that has definitely lost its earlier and more fatal meaning. 

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