Thursday, 28 May 2009


This is a headline in my local paper. (It's online too!) When I first read this I thought nothing of it - the sculptures cause revulsion in some people, that's clear. Then later I looked at it again. Revulse? That's an everyday word. Isn't it?

The word is in the OED, but it's obsolete. It means "To drag, draw, or pull back; to tear away" - not the meaning intended by this article. All the cites are in the past participle. My favourite:

c1690 BEVERLEY Kingd. Christ 9 Any of the Ten, though if not Revuls'd from the Beast, they are in Prophetic Language, Horns of the Papacy.

M-W has revulsed "affected with or having undergone revulsion", dating from 1934, but no revulse. I found some online uses of intransitive revulse meaning "undergo revulsion" (1, 2, 3) and also transitive revulse meaning "cause revulsion in" (4, 5).

I wonder if the writer intended revulse "cause revulsion in", or if it's a mistake for repulse. Is this a new word in the making? Or am I suffering from the Recency Illusion?


Adam Roberts Project said...

A mistake for 'revolts'?

Jonathon said...

I don't know if I've ever seen it before. I'd guess it's a backformation of revulsion.

Ms G said...

Does the rule of common usage apply to word meaning as well as pronunciation?

And don't get me started about the article..........

goofy said...

Ms G: if you mean will the word show up in dictionaries if enough people use it, then yes.

Glen Gordon said...

I second the idea of backformation from revulsion in place of the proper word revolts. The need to analogically level out unintuitive alternations (in this case, the s/t alternation) is always strong in languages.

It looks like you found yourself a new trend in the English language. Sci-fi writers creating post-modern dialects of Future English might want to pick up on this when dreaming of the 25th century.