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I want to write that some specific philosophy "pervades" (or "permeates") my personal view of some topic.

Is this understandable or does exist a better word to express this?

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Both are grammatically correct and understandable. Asking if there is a better word to express this depends on what "this" (your actual thought) is. Unfortunately I am not able to know your actual thought! If you describe it more, then possibly I could say whether or not there is a better word than "pervades" or "permeates" to express it. – MετάEd Feb 6 '12 at 19:57
Hi John, welcome to ELU. If you stick around I'm sure you'll get used to comments like @MetaEd's (which I totally endorse). When you're asking for the "right" word like this, you really need to give a better indication of exactly what you're trying to express. In this case I'm not sure there's much to choose between permeates and pervades. But it's always possible that the concept you really have in mind might be better expressed using, for example, underpins. Don't forget you can always edit the text of your question to clarify things. – FumbleFingers Feb 6 '12 at 22:49
up vote 0 down vote accepted

Either usage is correct.

Graphing the use of "philosphy pervades" vs "philosophy permeates" in Google Ngrams shows their use to be almost equally prevalent (within some miniscule percentage) in the literature:

pervades vs permeates

Some examples of "philosphy pervades" from the corpus:

The I Ching is essential for a basic understanding of Chinese religion, for its philosophy pervades both Taoism and Confucianism.

A beautiful and refined religious philosophy pervades the poetry of Wordsworth, which shines out nowhere more brightly than in tho third and fourth books of the 'Excursion.'

A similar conception of science and philosophy pervades the work of S. Alexander, Space, Time and Deity (London, 1920).

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Thank you, I guess it fits in what I'm trying to say! – John Feb 6 '12 at 22:34
Not much of a sample size, but Google books has 70 instances of "philosophy which pervades his", against only 30 for "philosophy which permeates his". To be honest, I think any attempt to assign differences of nuance would be specious, though. – FumbleFingers Feb 6 '12 at 22:56
@FumbleFingers Either use is found in standard writing, which was the OP's question anyway. – Gnawme Feb 6 '12 at 23:00

They're both borrowed from Latin, but they use different metaphors, at least originally.

  • Per- means 'through'
  • meare means 'to pass', from PIE base *mei-/*moi- 'to change' (see mutable)
  • vadere means 'to go, advance, rush, hurry; walk'

Hence permeate is associated with gradual, even osmosis-like, passage of something (perhaps a fluid or gas) through some other thing (perhaps a contained gas, a thick layer of tissue, or a wall). It seems well-suited for speaking of tastes, smells, and chemistry.

Pervade can be used in many of the same circumstances, but it is more likely to involve individual countable things, like crabgrass infestation, than a single mass thing, like carbon monoxide gas.

Thus I'd speak of carbon monoxide permeating the room, but crabgrass pervading the yard. Mind you, that may just be because I know too much Latin.

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My dictionary states that "pervade" in the sense of being "present and apparent throughout" only applies to an "influence, feeling, or quality." While it could be argued that your use is correct, by my interpretation of that definition, I don't think it is.

A google search of "pervades" on nytimes.com lists these uses first:

  1. a sense of loss pervades his triumphs
  2. face of war pervades new Beruit art center
  3. confusion pervades… hostage ordeals
  4. aura of fear pervades Thai media
  5. music of the waves pervades his poetry (1916)
  6. sour mood pervades the economic front
  7. a sense of joy pervades an island
  8. anthrax pervades Florida site
  9. grief pervades beach resort
  10. note of unity pervades… ceremony

What all these have in common that your use does not, is that the thing doing the pervading is a quality, feature, or characteristic of the thing being described. A philosophy that has molded or informed your views can not really be called a characteristic of those views.

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