The Grammarphobia Blog

With a jaded eye

Q: I was surprised to see “jaded” used to describe exhausted soldiers. I’m familiar with the satiated meaning of “jaded,” but not this exhausted sense. Have I led a sheltered life or is the usage almost obsolete?

 A: “Jaded,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary, has two general meanings: (1) “worn out or exhausted; fatigued; fagged out” and (2) “dull or sated by continual use or indulgence.”

Both senses date from the 1600s and are still in use. But standard dictionaries give the word an added dimension: cynical.

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) has this as its second definition: “made dull, apathetic, or cynical by experience or surfeit.” M-W gives as examples “jaded network viewers” and “jaded voters.”

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.) goes even further, giving “jaded” a separate, third definition: “cynically or pretentiously callous.”

We’re sure the OED will catch up with this newer usage when it updates its entries for “jaded,” none of which have any citations more recent than the 1890s.

The word “jaded” here is a participial adjective derived from the verb “jade,” which means to exhaust or wear out, or to become exhausted or worn out.

The words “jade” and “jape” don’t seem to be connected etymologically and the OED says their origins are uncertain. But the two words have oddly similar backgrounds. Here are a couple of examples.

A now obscure meaning of the verb “jade” is to make a fool of someone. And one meaning of the verb “jape,” dating from the 1300s, is “to trick, beguile, befool, deceive,” the OED says.

(“Jape” is still used both as a verb and noun to mean joke or quip.)

The noun “jade,” when use for a person, is described by the OED as “a term of reprobation applied to a woman. Also used playfully, like hussy or minx.”

And at one time, the verb “jape” meant to seduce or have sex with.

As for the gemstone called “jade,” it’s an entirely different animal—or rather, mineral.

The name is actually used for two separate minerals that look very similar, nephrite and jadeite.

The name comes from the French l’ejade, which was misinterpreted as le jade and entered English as “jade.”

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