Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: sublimate; sublime, vb.

These verbs overlap, but only in their secondary senses; they’re best kept separate. The primary sense of “sublimate,” the more common word, is “to transmute (an instinct) from one form to another, esp. to a more socially acceptable form” — e.g.: “The current popular outrage about corporate governance is mostly sublimated concern about declining stock prices.” Michael Kinsley, “Bulls, Bears and Chickens,” Wash. Post, 26 July 2002, at A33. Most often, the instinct that gets changed relates to sex — e.g.: “Nathan (Tim Robbins) was a boy raised by parents so strict that his entire sexual drive was sublimated into the desire to train others as mercilessly as he was trained.” Roger Ebert, “‘Human Nature’ Takes Comic Look at Sexuality,” Chicago Sun-Times, 12 Apr. 2002, Weekend §, at 27. Sometimes the word suggests that what is sublimated is suppressed — e.g.: “There’s an erotic spark between them, but it remains sublimated.” Todd Lothery, “A Good ‘Read,'” News & Observer (Raleigh), 23 Aug. 2002, What’s Up §, at 23. If the sense is merely to suppress without transforming, then “suppress” is the better choice. “Sublime” = (1) to change or be changed from a solid to a vapor (and possibly back to solid again); (2) to purify; (3) to make sublime; to raise in dignity; or (4) to enhance the worth of. Most of these senses are rather rare, “sublime” being far more common as an adjective meaning “uplifted; exalted; lofty; supreme.” Sense 1 is most usual in technical contexts — e.g.: “Children also inhaled a whiff of carbon dioxide as it sublimed from dry ice to vapors.” Kathryn Grondin, “Show Yields Discoveries for Kids,” Daily Herald (Chicago), 25 Mar. 2001, News §, at 3. Although “sublimate” can be used in this sense, “sublime” is preferable (to encourage differentiation) — e.g.: “The ice ‘sublimated’ [read ‘sublimed’] — turned to gas and escaped into space — prematurely.” Frank D. Roylance, “Hubble Camera Finding Baby Stars,” Baltimore Sun, 6 June 2002, at A4. Many dictionary definitions suggest that the vapor gets changed back to a solid again. For information about the Language-Change Index click here. ——————– Quotation of the Day: “Perhaps the most plausible explanation lies in the familiar desire of younger teachers to regurgitate undigested fragments of what they have swallowed in the course of their education.” Karl Dykema, “Where Our Grammar Came From,” in A Linguistics Reader 139, 141 (Graham Wilson ed., 1967).
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