This week’s word pair turned out to be a bit of a challenge. Usually, I tend to focus on the difference between the roots of two words. I start where the words started (usually with Latin or Greek), then try to follow their trail through to the present, looking for clues about why these words might be confused or misused in more modern situations. The difference between eminent and imminent is found in the differences between the prefixes of the two words, which is a much more subtle distinction, and context can play a key role in its usage or interpretation.
* ETYMOLOGY *
The word eminent comes from the Latin verb ēmineō (“to project, to protrude”).
ex (out of, from)
+ mineō (mountain, menace, jut)
–Maybe look deeper into the root word here mount
*Unrelated is the word emanate, also often confused with imminent/eminent, which is instead from mānō (“I flow”)
* DEFINITIONS *
The difference appears to be just as I thought: it lies within the prefixes of the words, which makes the modern distinction between the two a little more subtle. Can a subtle distinction in the Latin prefixes inform us about the modern connotations associated with each of these words?
Last week we learned that imminent was basically “in” (upon, toward) + “minere” (mountain).
This week we know that eminent is basically “ex” (out of, from) + “minere”
Perhaps it is just a matter of the point of reference. Whether something is imminently “jutting toward” something else, or that it is eminently “jutting out of” something else…? The action is the same, but the emphasis is on a different subject— either on the thing it is jutting toward or the thing it is jutting out from.
In terms of current usage, the main distinction I see is that imminent tends to be used when referring to an object or something that is about to happen. On the other hand, eminent is often used to describe power or position of a person or object.
A modern dictionary will tell you that…
*these are more contemporary definitions
Synonyms — distinguished, famous, celebrated, renowned, illustrious, outstanding, notable, protrude
Antonyms — unknown, obscure
* USAGE *
The term “eminent domain” was first used in a legal setting 1738. It was derived from the Latin phrase dominium eminens (which literally means “supreme lordship”) in the document “De Jure Belli et Pacis” (which translates into “On the Law of War and Peace”).
Eminent domain refers to the state’s right and power to take over private property for justified public use. This includes property that is transformed for government or third party use. This reflects back to our definition eminent, meaning “to have dominion over” or “to jut out and above.” The state’s power over the land has dominion over the rights of the private property owner.
On another note, I couldn’t help but notice how close the famous rapper’s name “Eminem” is to eminent. Could there be connection, or could it just be incidental…?
- Prefix Meanings (english.answers.com)
- Eminent vs. Imminent: Understanding the Difference (english.answers.com)
- Seattle Uses Eminent Domain to Take 103-Year-Old’s Parking Lot…to Make Another Parking Lot (downtrend.com)
- Seattle Uses Eminent Domain To Seize A Privately Owned Parking Lot…To Turn It Into A Parking Lot (libertycrier.com)