abysmal ignorance

< Previous | Next >

homotopy07

Senior Member
Japanese
His arrogance is exceeded only by his abysmal ignorance.
[From Barron's BASIC WORD LIST.] (The coloring is mine.)

Question: Does the green part mean "extreme ignorance"?
 
  • lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    That list defines abysmal as bottomless. I don’t think I would use either word to describe ignorance, personally. :)
     

    lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    You could use all sorts of adjectives – abysmal, appalling, astounding, etc. – but whichever you choose, it comes across as a very formal and rather pompous statement. It’s hard to imagine a context in which anyone (other than Sherlock Holmes, perhaps :D) would say such a thing.

    Informally, if you mean someone is ignorant in the sense of being generally brainless/stupid, you’d probably only say it behind his back, maybe describing him as pig-ignorant!
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    I don't know if I've heard pig ignorant before.

    Abysmal comes from abyss, which means an immeasurably deep place (at least poetically, since some abysses that were previously immeasurable are now measurable). So I think abysmal works figuratively in that sense. If you have a scale of ignorance in the form of, say, a very tall pole that comes from the bottomless depths (the least amount of knowledge) to high above your head (the most knowledge) his level on that scale is somewhere in those bottomless depths - too far down to measure accurately. In a practical sense, it means extreme, of course.
     

    homotopy07

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    Abysmal comes from abyss, which means an immeasurably deep place (at least poetically, since some abysses that were previously immeasurable are now measurable).
    Thanks, kentix. :)

    It seems to me that profound is etymologically similar to abysmal.

    profound (1200-1300) Old French profond “deep”, from Latin profundus, from fundus “bottom”
    profound | meaning of profound in Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English | LDOCE

    And profound ignorance is probably more common than abysmal ignorance.

    Ngram (profound/gross/abysmal/extreme/egregious ignorance)
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    "Abysmal ignorance" has certainly been used in English, but it's rather an old-fashioned collocation.

    Since "abyss" has more negative connotations than "profound" does, I'm wondering why that is so. :)
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    Since "abyss" has more negative connotations than "profound" does, I'm wondering why that is so.
    I suspect it is because "abyss" is seen as physical (people get cast into it), but "profound" is seen as an abstract quality - far more genteel and euphemistic. :D
     
    < Previous | Next >
    Top