The Latin adjective blandus meant ‘of a smooth tongue, flattering, fawning, caressing,’ senses that continued on into the Latin verb blandīrī, the source of French blandir and from it the English blandish that means ‘to coax, cajole, flatter mildly as a means to get someone to do something.’ Spanish lacks a descendant of that verb but has carried over blandus as blando, though with a shift in meaning from the Latin original. The DRAE gives these senses for blando:

Que cede fácilmente a la presión del tacto. [Easily yielding to the touch, i.e. soft.]

Suave, benigno, apacible. [Soft, benign, even-tempered, placid, mild.]

Dicho de una persona: Pusilánime, de carácter débil. [Said of a person: pusillanimous, having a weak character.]

The English adjective bland has also changed from the original Latin blandus that it was borrowed from. The 1913 Webster’s gave this as its first definition: ‘Having soft and soothing qualities; not drastic or irritating; not stimulating; as, a bland oil; a bland diet.’ The dictionary’s second definition was ‘Mild; soft; gentle; smooth and soothing in manner; suave; as, a bland temper; bland persuasion; a bland sycophant.’ In the century since then, bland has turned more negative. Recent senses of the word include: ‘uninteresting, insipid, boring.’

© 2016 Steven Schwartzman


6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shoreacres
    Sep 12, 2016 @ 07:37:37

    It occurs to me that many of today’s politicians are exemplars of both the early Latin blandus (‘of a smooth tongue, flattering, fawning,’) and of the more modern bland: ‘uninteresting, insipid, boring.’

    Thinking about my own use of ‘bland,’ I’d say it most often pops up in the kitchen. I think of a bland dish as one that’s uninteresting and boring, and in need of spicing up.

    I’ve noticed that ‘o’ ending before. For example, in your sidebar there’s a reference to La Llave del Mundo. Is the ‘o’ a signifier for a part of speech, such as noun or adjective? Or does Spanish have masculine/feminine words, like French?


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Sep 12, 2016 @ 08:01:23

      That’s a clever connection between the early and recent meanings of bland that you’ve made via politics.

      Each Latin noun came in one of three genders: masculine, feminine, neuter. You couldn’t always tell from the ending(s) of a noun what gender it was. Most singular nouns ending in -a were feminine, but nauta (sailor), agricola (farmer) poeta, etc., were masculine. The most common ending for a masculine noun used as a subject was -us, which evolved to o in Spanish.

      The Romance languages largely jettisoned the neuter gender, reassigning each previously neuter noun to masculine or feminine. In a few cases a given Latin noun could be in two genders. That happens in rare instances in Spanish. Normally mar is now masculine, el mar, but in poetic usage it can be feminine. Think of all the occurrences of Lamar in Texas.


  2. Maria F.
    Oct 09, 2016 @ 18:28:06

    I’ve read the phrase “a bland character”. I suppose this is very pejorative?


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