Friday, June 07, 2013

Imminently Eminent

Tim from Old Mission Peninsula commented that imminent and eminent seem to be increasingly confused, even on national newscasts. While they do sound alike when said aloud, there is a real distinction.

Imminent means that something is about to happen. An event is impending, looming, just around the corner.  For some reason—probably its Latin progenitor—negative things are more likely to be called imminent than positive happenings. Storms, invasions, and market crashes are imminent. Birthdays, weddings, and awards are approaching. The Latin source was imminere, to project or overhang in a threatening way, like a rock slide waiting to happen.
Eminent came from the Latin eminere, to project. It is a close cousin, but in this case, prominence and height were emphasized, not danger. Exalted, dignified, distinguished, and noteworthy would be synonyms.

We may add immanent to the mix. It means indwelling or inherent, and it is rooted in the Latin immanere, to dwell or remain within. Its antonym would be transcendent, mirroring the matching pair internal and external.

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