in vain

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(This etymology is missing or incomplete. Please add to it, or discuss it at the Etymology scriptorium. Particularly: “Anglo-Norman en vain?”)


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in vain (comparative more in vain, superlative most in vain)

  1. (idiomatic) Without success or a result; ending in failure.
    • 1863 November 19, Abraham Lincoln, Dedicatory Remarks (Gettysburg Address)‎[1], near Soldiers' National Cemetery, LCCN n94107481, Bliss copy, page 2:
      [] that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain []
    • 19th c., Friedrich Nietzsche
      On the mountains of truth you can never climb in vain.
    • 1956 [1880], Johanna Spyri, Heidi, translation of original by Eileen Hall, page 46:
      For some time Grannie tried in vain to comfort her.
    • 1960 March, J. P. Wilson & E. N. C. Haywood, “The route through the Peak: Derby to Manchester. Part One”, in Trains Illustrated, page 149:
      All these great plans were in vain, however, for in the cold dawn following the "Mania" years of 1845–46 the M.B.M. & M.J.R. project was truncated to an 11+12-mile line from Ambergate to Rowsley.
  2. (idiomatic) In a disrespectful manner, without honoring the proper meaning; insincerely or without proper respect.
    • 1611, The Holy Bible, [] (King James Version), London: [] Robert Barker, [], OCLC 964384981, Exodus 20:7, column 2:
      Thou ſhalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vaine: []
    • 1817, Sir Walter Scott, Rob Roy, published 2015, page 4:
      Methinks I see him even now in my mind's eye;— the firm and upright figure,— the step, quick and determined, — the eye, which shot so keen and so penetrating a glance,— the features on which care had already planted wrinkles, and hear his language, in which he never wasted word in vain, expressed in a voice which had sometimes an occasional harshness, far from the intention of the speaker.
    • 2013, Mandy Merck, The Sexual Subject: Screen Reader in Sexuality:
      A fetishist regime attempts to annul the separation of image and spectator, to reinstall an immediate relation that promises (in vain) to provide satisfaction to desire itself.
    • 2015, Kent Gramm, The Prayer of Jesus: A Reading of the Lord’s Prayer, page 69:
      This petition is the reverse side of the commandment against taking God's name in vain.
    • 2015, Jimmy R. Watson, Big Jesus: A Pastor’s Struggle with Christology, page 119:
      McLaren's task, it seems, is to set Jesus in a more appropriate and biblical context so that we won't use his name “in vain.”
    • 2016, Alexandre Dumas, Frank J. Morlock, transl., The Count of Monte Cristo, Part IV (play), page 247:
      That's fine. I know you won't engage your word in vain.


Related terms[edit]



in vain (comparative more in vain, superlative most in vain)

  1. (idiomatic) Unsuccessful, failed.
    Their efforts were in vain and he succumbed to his injuries.
    • 2012, N.H. Pijls, Maximal Myocardial Perfusion as a Measure of the Functional Significance of Coronary Artery Disease[2]:
      The problems concerning contrast induced hyperemia and the in vain efforts to search for a contrast agent not influencing flow []


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