imminent…

This week I wanted to take a look at two words that I personally get confused. The words sound so similar that when I read either one in a book or hear it spoken, I had to wonder if I really knew what either one actually meant, and what way was the right way. It looks to me, at first sight, as if they have the same roots, but different prefixes. I guess I’m getting a little rusty, and need to brush up on my Latin prefixes!

* ETYMOLOGY *

The word “imminent” comes from the Latin verb immineō…

in (upon, toward)

mineō (related to “minae,” “mons,” and “minere”)

minae = “menace”

mons = “mountain” or “hill”

minere = “to jut out”

imminent 

* DEFINITIONS *

imminent (adjective) = about to happen

= likely to occur at any moment

= projecting or leaning forward

= touching or bordering on

= eager for or intent upon, longed for

Synonyms:

impending, convergence, looming, menacing, overhanging, brewing, immediate, inevitable, warning, threatening

Antonyms:

avoidable, escapable, distant, unlikely, departing

Related Terms: nearness (“in time and/or space”), importance (“urgency”)

*In law…

…an imminent threat is a justification for the use of force in international law.

…an imminent lawless action refers to a justification for restriction of free speech (previously referred to as “clear and present danger“).

*Just so you’re not confused, next week I will be writing a little about the legal phrase eminent domain.

* MODERN CONNOTATIONS & USAGES *

Because imminent and eminent have very similar sounds, they may easily be confused in speech and in writing. To make matters worse, spellcheck may even get confused– correcting a typo to the wrong word!

Don’t get caught up making silly mistakes in your writing:

  • The use of the word imminent is less common than the usage of eminent in the English language.
  • Even less common, though is imminent being confused with immanent (meaning “inherent,” “present throughout,” or “dwelling within”).

This word is often said of danger, threat and death in more modern circumstances. In fact, I very rarely came across a phrase where someone used the word to suggest a positive thing was about to happen (although it can be used in this way).

Some talk about: imminent death, imminent danger, imminent storm, imminent war, imminent doom, imminent destruction, etc. The word has become popular recently, appearing in the press: the ‘imminent‘ war on Syria, the ‘imminent‘ government shutdown, etc.

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Here are a few sentences just to give you some context:

The swarming dark clouds suggested that a storm was imminent, and everyone began to take cover.

Once the merchant ships had been hit, everyone felt that war was imminent.

Disaster was imminent, as the ship rapidly approached the iceberg. 

“Even when our death is imminent, we carry the image of ourselves moving forward, alive, into the future.” -Dan Chaon

“The funny thing about facing imminent death is that it really snaps everything else into perspective.” -James Patterson

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