Which Word Wednesday: Vigor vs. Vim

By May 4, 2011 language No Comments

Some words have been so linked that together they form a phrasal expression. (Think of pairs like warp and woof, flotsam and jetsam, kith and kin, etc.)

Today’s Which Word Wednesday features one such pair: vim and vigor. Why is it that vim always gets to go first? Why don’t we ever say vigor and vim? Well, I’ll give vigor first billing because alphabetically it precedes vim.

Here are the Oxford American Dictionary definitions:

vigor :: noun
physical strength and good health; effort, energy, and enthusiasm

vim :: noun
energy; enthusiasm

According to Ron Evans, in his The Artful Nuance: A Refined Guide to Imperfectly Understood Words in the English Language, vigor “emphasizes strength from a fundamentally sound and active mind or body.” Vim “emphasizes the display of extraordinary energy put to work.”1

Over at The Word Detective, I discovered all sorts of interesting history for vim and vigor. For example, vigor has been used commonly since the 1300s whereas vim popped up in the 1900s. I think that’s why the OAD entry lists vim as an informal word.

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What’s my WWW verdict? I think in the 1300s people were propping up vim with vigor due to vim’s informality. I’m not sure I would insert vim without vigor, mostly out of habit. Maybe I’ll give it a try sometime and see how it goes . . .

What’s your verdict? Do you use vim without vigor? Share your comments and be sure to cast your vote in the poll.

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), 200.

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