Bespoke Artisanal Handcrafted English

In writing my latest MercatorNet article I wanted to use the adjectival form of “penance”.

Penance is “punishment inflicted on oneself as an outward expression of repentance for wrongdoing.”

Such punishment could be described as….what exactly?

The first thought is “penitent”, but penitent is the adjectival (and nominal) form of “penitence”.

Penitence isn’t penance exactly, rather it’s “the action of feeling or showing sorrow and regret for having done wrong”.

Historically it looks like penitence had the adjectival form penitent, which then became the nominal form (“the penitent person” becomes simply “the penitent”).

The alternative adjectival form “penitential” came a bit later, borrowing directly from the Latin adjective.

Penance came indirectly from the same Latin as penitence, via Anglo-French, but there doesn’t appear to be any adjectival form available.

The pattern of penitence would suggest “penant” as the adjectival form of penance.

The only reference I can find to such a word is the nominal form in Chaucer: penant – one who does penance.

I ended up using “penant” as an adjective in my article. “Penant qualities”, for example, and I have to say I’m unrepentant.

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Sackcloth and ashes on Valentine’s Day

My latest article at MercatorNet is inspired by the fortuitous coincidence of Valentine’s Day and the Christian observance of Ash Wednesday, a day of penance and the beginning of the penitential season of Lent:

The flip side of humiliating oneself with public acts of penance is that we no longer have much of a stake in the prestige and demands of social status.

The worldly values that make sackcloth and ashes humiliating and therefore penant are themselves abjured when we remember who and what we truly are.

Worldly humiliation becomes genuine humility, reflected even in the Latin root of the word humble, from humus meaning ‘earth’ or ‘soil’.

True humility lies in knowing that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. All our worldly affairs, striving, and accomplishments, but also our troubles, fears and dilemmas are but dust.

But this would still be a bit of a downer if that was all there was to life. Our relationships might all be dust, but that doesn’t mean your romantic dinner should turn to ashes in your mouth.

https://www.mercatornet.com/above/view/sackcloth-and-ashes-on-valentines-day