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The Oxford Dictionaries entry for animus reads:

  1. [mass noun] Hostility or ill feeling:
  2. [mass noun] Motivation to do something:

Owing to definition 1 above, I suspect that a negative connotation inheres in definition 2. The definition doesn't elucidate or promulgate this, but this word would be too confusing if definition 2 could also refer to positive motivation. Am I right?

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  • As an aside, in English, questions are not formed like this? I have edited your question accordingly? Please do not do it in the future? Thank you in advance?
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Jun 30, 2014 at 23:07
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    Who says words can't mean more than one thing? There are words in English that are their own antonyms, depending on context. Consider fast and cleave, for example. There are others.
    – Robusto
    Commented Jun 30, 2014 at 23:30

1 Answer 1

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No, it doesn't necessarily have a negative connotation, though it can have.

Meaning 1 is usually shown by words such as against or towards. Meaning 2 (which I think is rare) takes no object, or maybe an infinitive

Some of the examples from the OED (which mentions both meanings, but does not treat them as different senses):

I hope you will now, despite your rather evident animus against her, set this to her credit. (1911, meaning 1)

vs

They have an instinctive appreciation of the animus that actuates the policy of a foreign country. (1867, meaning 2. All the examples newer than this have against.)

Having said that, the example from Thackeray (1840):

From the animus with which the case has been conducted,..it was easy to see the result.

does seem to have the first meaning, even though there is no explicit object.

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    Is sense 1 really much less rare than sense 2? I would think of anyone who started talking about animus towards something in normal conversation as quite insufferably pompous; and even in writing, my gut feeling is that animosity is far more common. Commented Jun 30, 2014 at 23:22
  • @JanusBahsJacquet I was preparing an answer to this question but this one was just as good as mine would have been. I found in COCA that of over 300 incidences of "animus" maybe 2 or 3 of them meant "animating force/motivation". The rest were clearly negatively-connotated and meant "negative feeling". The term has been used frequently in recent years in legal rulings concerning laws against same-sex marriage, and the term is reused in popular coverage of those rulings.
    – nohat
    Commented Jul 1, 2014 at 1:01
  • @nohat Still, 300 instances in COCA is not much to begin with (though I notice animosity gets only about 1100, too). Commented Jul 1, 2014 at 8:14
  • @JanusBahsJacquet well, "insufferably" only has 65 incidences.... :-D
    – nohat
    Commented Jul 1, 2014 at 16:18
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    @nohat That only proves that I'm an insufferably pompous git, and I could have told you that without you having to go look it up in COCA. ;-) Commented Jul 1, 2014 at 21:52

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