Skip to content

“Violence” OED-Style

By popular request, here are some highlights of what the OED says about violence as a noun:

 1. a. The exercise of physical force so as to inflict injury on, or cause damage to, persons or property; action or conduct characterized by this; treatment or usage tending to cause bodily injury or forcibly interfering with personal freedom.

This one was first recorded in 1290 and continues into the late 1800s.

b. In the phr. to do violence to, unto (or with indirect object): To inflict harm or injury upon; to outrage or violate. Also to make violence.

Make violence? Never heard that one. But it began appearing in 1300 and shows up here and there until 1860.

    c. In weakened sense: Improper treatment or use of a word; wresting or perversion of meaning or application; unauthorized alteration of wording.

Example: 1749 FIELDING Tom Jones IV. vi, A passion which might without any great violence to the word, be called love.

   3. Force or strength of physical action or natural agents; forcible, powerful, or violent action or motion (in early use freq. connoting destructive force or capacity).

Beginning with Chaucer in 1384 and continuing through 1895 with: Law Times Rep. LXXIII. 156/2 Two vessels..drifted through the violence of a storm on to the toe of a breakwater.

 4. a. Great force, severity, or vehemence; intensity of some condition or influence.

 5. Vehemence of personal feeling or action; great, excessive, or extreme ardour or fervour; also, violent or passionate conduct or language; passion, fury.

Example: 1604 SHAKES. Oth. II. i. 224 Marke me with what violence she first lou'd the Moore.

And now for violence, the verb:

1. trans. To do violence to; to violate.

Beginning in 1612 and continuing throughout the 17th century.

2. To compel or constrain; to force (a person) to or from a place, etc., or to do something, by violence.

Interesting example: 1648 SYMMONS Vind. Chas. I 296 They have done what they could to violence him from his Religion.

There's also "violencing," from the above definition, which is now obsolete, and here's an example: 1649 HAMMOND Chr. Oblig., etc. 68 A kind of constraining and violencing of the spirit.

"Violent" is also interesting, but I have to run so I'll post it later this afternoon.

I hope some of the above was interesting/helpful.

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Dan #

    Thanks for the scoop on "violence", Mary. There's no problem with calling property damage violence, according to the OED. I do think it's ridiculous hyperbole to call property damage "terrorism", however.

    February 25, 2009
  2. Well, Dan, I suppose that depends upon the scope of the word "damage", the property in question, and what "terrorism" actually is.

    Can we think of property that could be destroyed where terror is induced even though no one is hurt?

    Blowing up the Statue of Liberty would probably induce terror in some.

    But if damage is limited to small scale stuff like gluing locks and cutting through chains, then yes, that probably does not arouse terror.

    Now, if terrorism is "the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce", then I'd have to say some of the smaller scale property damaging actions are, by definition, terrorism. Of course, the word is far more politically charged than that definition reveals, and in the present context, includes murderous actions like suicide bombing. Therefore, it certainly would be inappropriate and hyperbolic to lump most property damage (where no one receives bodily harm) in with violence that directly injures and kills people.

    February 25, 2009
  3. Dan #

    I was thinking along the lines of what would normally be called vandalism – e.g. smashing lab equipment. I'd always classify a (potentially lethal) bomb as terrorism, even if nobody was hurt. In most cases, I would also consider arson as terrorism. Of course, threatening arson or bombing is also terrorism, IMO.

    February 26, 2009
  4. Dan #

    One more distinction: I consider arson and bombing to be terrorism mainly because of the unpredictible nature of both, but also because of the extensive damage that generally goes beyond what could be call mere vandalism.

    February 26, 2009
  5. Dan #

    One more distinction: what's the difference between "war" or "police action" and "terrorism"? The Iraq "War" for example, is a massive, long-term terrorism campaign. All the slaughting and abuse of innocent animals is extreme terrorism.

    February 26, 2009

Leave a Reply

You may use basic HTML in your comments. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS