Which Word Wednesday: Amiable vs. Amicable

By May 11, 2011 language No Comments

You might think that a gal who hosts a blog series on word usage would be some sort of expert. That is not the case, however, here at Which Word Wednesday—this gal is no expert. I’m just fascinated by language, making me curious enough to track down answers to the questions I have.

And sometimes, even my own word choices provide fodder for the series. For example, a few weeks ago, I posted a Mother’s Day tribute inviting readers to post a comment of thanks to their own moms. I kicked things off with a message to my own mom:


You’ve taught me so many things it’s hard to pick just one. There’s the truth that both hams and salads are always amicable (“I’m going to make a nice salad!” / “Let’s have a nice ham!”). . . .

Days after posting my comment, it occurred to me that perhaps amicable was not correct . . . I wondered if amiable was the word I should have used. That mystery prodded me to check with the Oxford American Dictionary. Here’s what I found:

amiable :: adjective
having or displaying a friendly and pleasant manner

amicable :: adjective
(of relations between people) having a spirit of friendliness; without serious disagreement or rancor

Hams and salads are not people, so amicable doesn’t seem like the correct choice. And a check with Ron Evans, in his The Artful Nuance: A Refined Guide to Imperfectly Understood Words in the English Language, told me that amicable “usually refers to relationships, agreements, divorces, and settlements.”1

In context, amiable was the correct word to describe the pleasant nature of hams and salads. Unless, of course, hams and salads are also on good terms with each other—then they would be amicable toward one another . . . but I’ve heard that hams and salads have a long-standing feud for table space in homes across the nation. They may be pleasant to others, but there is some definite rancor between them.

What’s my WWW verdict? People, animals, hams, and salads may be amiable, but amicable refers to the relationship between two things. (Also, I may love words and language, but I make plenty of word choice errors.)

What’s your verdict? Are hams and salads the only amiable foods around? Do you tend to use the adjective nice to regularly describe any other foods or dishes? Do share in the comments.

Check out previous Which Word Wednesday verdicts here.

1. Ron Evans, The Artful Nuance: A Refined Guide to Imperfectly Understood Words in the English Language (New York, NY: Penguin Group, 2009), 11.

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