The Grammarphobia Blog

Department of inveterate affairs

Q: I wanted to call last month while you were on the Leonard Lopate Show, but I didn’t get a chance. Leonard described his listeners as “inveterate contributors” to WNYC. Now I have always been of the opinion that “inveterate” had a somewhat pejorative connotation. Hence I would have preferred “veteran contributors.” Am I right, or is the word as neutral as “veteran”?

A: “Inveterate” has been around since the 1500s and means long-established, deep-rooted, ingrained, and so on. It’s derived from the Latin inveterare, to make old or give age to.

But to some extent you’re right – there are sometimes pejorative connotations to the adjective. It took on negative overtones from the very beginning, probably from its association with obstinacy, persistent habits, or resistance to treatment (as in a chronic disease). That’s likely to be the reason it’s so often seen paired with negative nouns, as in “an inveterate liar” (or “drunk” or “thief”).

But its first and most common meaning in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.) is the neutral one – of long standing.

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