Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Word "Mortified"

Lucille Ball
The use of this word puzzles me. Yesterday someone told me they were mortified when diagnosed with cancer. (The diagnosis was years ago—the person has been cancer free for many years now.) Someone else told me they were mortified at hearing a tasteless joke. Another was mortified at a near miss by an oncoming car. These examples stuck with me because they rang false in my ear. Am I wrong? (Always a possibility.)
I might be terrified, horrified, or even petrified at a particular diagnosis, but I can only think of one or two that would mortify me, and that would be caused the manner of acquiring the disease. 
While I might be embarrassed by someone else’s joke, mortified doesn’t seem right.
I’ve always associated the word with shame in some personal way. My child’s behavior could possibly mortify me (appall would be more likely), but I, unfortunately, am capable of mortifying myself.

From Merriam-Webster
transitive verb
1 obsolete : to destroy the strength, vitality, or functioning of 
2: to subdue or deaden (as the body or bodily appetites) especially by abstinence or self-inflicted pain or discomfort
3: to subject to severe and vexing embarrassment : shame
Synonyms: abash, confound, confuse, discomfit, disconcert, discountenance, faze, fluster, embarrass, nonplus, rattle

How do you use the word? Do you notice its use or misuse by others? Can you give an example?

6 comments:

Donnell said...

Oh, Ellis, this is my favorite thing about your blog. You always teach us something! I agree, if I was diagnosed with cancer, I wouldn't be mortified.

I do think mortify is a good word for excessive humiliation. Example: a public official, deemed to be an up and coming front runner, accused and guilty of embezzlement, might be mortified (we could only hope).

Unfortunately mortified that he got caught in most cases. I think mortification has a lot of cause and effect associated with it. But I do think there's time when you can use that word.

Maryn Sinclair said...

Sheesh, I just used it in my book. Now I'm not sure if I used it correctly. Good thing I haven't sent it off yet.

Ellis Vidler said...

I would use it, Donnell, but only in some ways. Yes, I would hope some of these politicians are mortified at being caught in some of their actions.

Maryn, I'm betting it was correct. I'll watch for it though. ;)

Donnell said...

Okay, Ellis, you got Maryn and me going LOL. Just went and checked to see if I've used mortify in any of my books. I haven't. Darn, I'm mortified, I haven't used that word!

Ellis Vidler said...

I looked back at some of my early stuff and damn! I'm mortified at what I wrote. ;) Some of it was so over-the-top it makes me cringe.

Donna White Glaser said...

We may be surprised at a person's reaction to being diagnosed with cancer. (I know this isn't the main thrust of the post, but I had to respond.) But my brother Danny's reaction really was embarassment. He was a strong-silent type and to be told that he had an "invader" that he couldn't take care of on his own mortified him.

However, I do love it when a word that we commonly use or hear strikes our attention one day and we need to dig into it's meaning. Word nerds unite!