Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: venal; venial.

venal; venial. “Venal” = purchasable; highly mercenary; amenable to bribes; corruptible. E.g.: “As the world rushes to congratulate Kabila for overthrowing Mobutu, the continent’s most spectacularly venal dictator, terrible things are happening in the deep bush of this ruined country.” “Genocide Stalks Tribal Rivalry,” Pitt. Post-Gaz., 2 June 1997, at A1. “Venial” = slight (used of sins); pardonable; excusable; trivial. E.g.: “The 1992 election granted a kind of absolution, at least for venial sins, even though Clinton lied about them during the campaign.” David Warsh, “Whitewater, Whitewater, and Munich,” Boston Globe, 11 May 1997, at C1. Writers sometimes misuse “venal” for “venial” — e.g.: o “For all the failings of nature, Murphy’s play makes clear that the venal [read ‘venial’] sins of the leaders were as much to blame.” Iris Fanger, “‘Famine’ Punctuates Painful Irish Period,” Boston Herald, 2 Mar. 1995, at 42. o “Those are venal [read ‘venial’] sins compared to Rather walking off the set in 1987 when it looked as if a tennis match would run into the newscast.” Phil Kloer, “‘Equal Anchors’ Idea at CBS Didn’t Work,” Atlanta J.-Const., 22 May 1995, at C7. o “The scandals of the Clinton Administration so far appear to be venal [read ‘venial’] sins, not cardinal ones.” Robert J. Bresler, “Petty Scandals and Small Ideas,” USA Today (Mag.), 1 May 1997, at 15. Language-Change Index — “venal” misused for “venial”: Stage 1. For information about the Language-Change Index click here. ——————– Quotation of the Day: “Fiction is to the grown man what play is to the child; it is there that he changes the atmosphere and tenor of his life.” Robert Louis Stevenson, Learning to Write 60 (1888; repr. 1920).
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