Writing for Business

Dec 21 2009   5:14PM GMT

Bane (or bain) of my existence?

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore


Which is correct?

Inefficient use of bandwidth is the _____ of the network administrator’s existence.
a. bane
b. bain

Answer: a.

The correct spelling is bane, meaning something that — maybe slightly melodramatically — ruins one’s life. Bain, on the other hand, is a French word for bath.

Here’s an excerpt from The Word Detective:

To say that something or someone is “the bane of my existence” means that the person or thing is a constant irritant or source of misery. As a cliche�, “bane of my existence” has lost its edge to a large degree over the years, and today is most often applied to something that may profoundly annoy us but is certainly bearable. Telemarketers, for instance, have become the “bane” of many folks’ existence, but few of us are sufficiently distressed to turn off our telephones, and while “spam” is a daily “bane,” not many of us would dream of giving up the Internet. “Bane of my existence” is now almost always used in a semi-jocular, “what are you gonna do?” sense.

But “bane” was once a very serious word. The Old English “bana” meant literally “slayer” in the sense we now use “killer” or “murderer.” Early on, the English “bane” was also used in the more general sense of “cause of death,” and by the 14th century “bane” was used in the specialized sense of “poison,” a sense which lives on in the names of various poisonous plants such as “henbane” and “wolfbane.”

From this very literal “something that kills you” usage, “bane” by the 16th century had broadened into its modern meaning of “something that makes life unpleasant, a curse.”

Read on for more about banes of existence, neighbors’ dogs and much more on The Word Detective website. (And now I’d better step away from TWD or I’ll never get anything done this afternoon.)

How many people get this question right? Here’s a quick Google poll:
bane of my existence: 5,260,000 hits
bain of my existence: 1,880,000

Bane is the clear winner here — still, over a quarter got this one wrong.

Note: edited to correct error helpfully pointed out by Stato and then further explained (so I actually realized what where I’d gone wrong — from the first) by Youarewrong.

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5  Comments on this Post

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  • Stato
    I'm VERY grateful for the explanation of bane; thanks. Can I point out that in the Google poll over a quarter got it wrong (26%) - not "over a third". "I guess statistics is the bane of your life - no, pedants are!" ********************************* Statistics? Pedants? Nope — commenters with snappy responses! JK -- thanks for taking the time to comment. But… by my calculations, a third of 5,260,000 is 1,753,333 and 1,880,000 is more than that so unless I'm missing something -- which is always possible -- I think I’m right. And that statistics course wasn't entirely wasted. ;) Ivy
    0 pointsBadges:
  • Youarewrong
    Dear Ivy, You are missing something including but not limited to basic math skills 5,260,000 + 1,880,000 = 7,140,000 One third of 7,140,000 = 2,356,200 (which is more than 1,880,000) I think you're wrong and that statistics course was entirely wasted
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  • Ivy Wigmore
    Aha -- I see my error. (Honestly, I did learn a few things in that statistics course but can see I didn't demonstrate here.) "Youarewrong" -- nice handle. ;)
    735 pointsBadges:
  • Michael Tidmarsh
    Take a look at the latest grammar questions the Whatis team has to offer including a particular question involving the difference between 'dependent' and 'dependant'.
    65,670 pointsBadges:
  • Nakiperson
    I think you got it all wrong because as it states in the back of the oxford Dictionary the bane of my exsistance is actually referring To (Bane) a commonly known villain out of gothom city / batman , and When we say something is the bane of my exsistance we are saying its Like the villain of our everyday lives.
    10 pointsBadges:

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