34

I recently read an article claiming that employing some tactic was OK but could mitigate many of the good effects of the main action.

What word should the author have used, as mitigate means to improve or to lessen a negative, not to render a positive thing less good?

There may be no single word, but one keeps hovering around the edges of my memory...

EDIT:

Some have pointed out that this usage is correct because there is an authority for it. However, a survey of responses here seems to indicate that most people do not recognize this usage, and that view is what I'm basing this question on.

So to rephrase: what other word(s) could the author have used, to avoid confusion with the popular understanding of mitigate?

  • 19
    This question appears to be off-topic because it is based on a prescriptive peeve rather than actual language usage. Mitigate has been used to mean “counteract, qualify, or moderate (something neutral or positive)” (OED definition 9) for at least 150 years, by such prominent writers as E.M. Forster. There’s nothing wrong with how the author of your tactic used the word, even if it’s not the original sense of the word. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Nov 11 '14 at 15:06
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    @JanusBahsJacquet - Good find. But I'd hardly call this 'prescriptive' since the descriptive POV (the popular and by far the top-level usage) is what I based this on. Were it somewhere north of the 9th OED entry I'd feel more chastened. – Jim Mack Nov 11 '14 at 16:31
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    I agree that it’s less common, but I’ve heard it used this way to recognise it and not think it odd, even if I’d probably not be that likely to use it for outright positive things myself. Don’t forget that the OED’s entries are (roughly) chronological, not ordered by frequency; so the fact that it’s the ninth definition doesn’t mean the previous eight are more common (several of them are very rare or obsolete), just that they are attested earlier. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Nov 11 '14 at 16:37
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    I actually think mitigate works fine here. Per dictionary.reference.com, mitigate means "to become milder; lessen in severity". This doesn't sound to me like it only applies to bad things. – burfl Nov 11 '14 at 17:41
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    @JanusBahsJacquet A question based on a misconception isn't off-topic. It is answerable by addressing the faulty premise. Example – 200_success Nov 11 '14 at 18:23

14 Answers 14

53

If you are looking for a word that means to make a good thing less good, rather than to make a bad thing worse, a possibility would be vitiate:-

To reduce the value or impair the quality of. [American Heritage Dictionary via The Free Dictionary]

or

to make faulty or imperfect [Collins English Dictionary via The Free Dictionary]

  • 1
    Very close, and a good word in any case. Best so far. – Jim Mack Nov 11 '14 at 16:30
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    I have entirely refrained from voting on this question. I would just like to point out that I like every word here except this one that I'd never heard, had to look up and had to be pronounced for me. – Mazura Nov 13 '14 at 6:24
  • 1
    Indeed. It's exactly the right word, the problem is that maybe 1 in 100 people would understand it. :-) Mind you, if the context is clear enough, using it could improve that number... – T.J. Crowder Nov 14 '14 at 12:07
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    I feel like 1 in 100 is probably far too kind. It's an interesting word, but I read a lot and know a fair number of words, and I've never heard that word used once. – neminem Nov 14 '14 at 17:19
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    Commonality of the word is not necessarily an issue. If it is appropriate, use it, and the entropy will increase. :) – Kirk Roybal Nov 14 '14 at 22:53
45

What of undermine?

If a good thing is proposed or implemented and something else weakens it, I would think that undermine would be a good choice:

Merriam Webster has these definitions (among others):

to subvert or weaken insidiously or secretly

or

to weaken or ruin by degrees

  • 4
    Similarly, I'm a fan of hamper (the verb), which google defines as "to hinder or impede the movement or progress of." – Roger Filmyer Nov 12 '14 at 2:18
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    Any synonym of 'reduce' will do, but this is the best one on the page for the exact sentence in the question, particularly because it has the correct connotations about undoing something good. – DCShannon Nov 14 '14 at 2:50
  • @RogerFilmyer: Whereas I'm a fan of hamper, the noun -- particularly ones from Fortnum & Mason's. ;-) – T.J. Crowder Nov 14 '14 at 12:06
42

To mitigate means to lessen the severity of a situation. You're looking for a word to make a situation worse. There are a couple of multiple antonyms at the same level of formality:

  • exacerbate
  • aggravate

More informally would be

  • worsen
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    Exacerbate is used to describe making a bad thing worse. The OP is asking for a term for making a good thing worse. You wouldn't exacerbate cash savings, for example. – Ste Nov 11 '14 at 15:04
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    Those links don't actually support this usage. The idea isn't to find an antonym for mitigate, it's to find a word with similar connotations for a positive thing as opposed to a negative thing. – barbecue Nov 11 '14 at 18:25
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    @barbecue: There are many ways to be the 'opposite' – Mitch Nov 11 '14 at 20:48
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    The only piece of this answer that is even vaguely in the spirit of the question is worsen. The "justification" for suggesting exacerbate and aggravate completely misses the point. – John Y Nov 11 '14 at 21:07
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    @Mazura, no, that's not correct. Exacerbate does mean to make something already negative more negative. Nobody uses exacerbate to describe a good day turning into a bad day. In your own quotation, it says "to make MORE violent, bitter, or severe." In other words, the situation is already violent, or bitter, or severe, and is being made worse. – barbecue Nov 16 '14 at 4:38
30

Compromise : To reduce the quality, value, or degree of something; damage, put in danger.

E.g:

The affair seriously compromised the party's prospects of success
  • I like this one. Not exactly what I had in mind but it does the job. – Jim Mack Nov 11 '14 at 16:27
  • Yes, I just had need for such a word, and this one came to mind first. – Hot Licks Nov 12 '14 at 20:40
  • This is a perfectly good answer. Also commonly in use. – smci Nov 12 '14 at 21:14
12

I'll go ahead and submit that the author already used mitigate properly. My printed copy of the American Heritage Dictionary, Second College Edition gives this, and only this, definition (and etymology):

To make or become less severe or intense; moderate. [ME mitigaten < Lat. mitigare < mitis, soft.]

Several people have focused on the "less severe" part of the definition, which is fair. I don't think anyone will dispute that mitigate is most commonly used to mean "to make something bad less bad". But the definition above also says "or intense", and surely good things can be made less intense.

Regardless, I would argue that "to make milder" much more accurately captures mitigate than "to make better", or even "to make less bad". As such, I feel the author's intent was clearly, and perhaps even a bit colorfully, expressed.

10

I believe the word you are looking for may be:

  • negate

or possibly, in this example

  • counter
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    You know, on seeing compromise and counter I think offset might be a good candidate as well. – Jim Mack Nov 11 '14 at 16:29
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    Counter and offset seem to work. Negate feels a little too harsh to me. It implies a direct cancelling out of an action, not just a decrease in intensity of effect. – Chris Pratt Nov 11 '14 at 20:34
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    Along the same lines as counter is counteract. That's the word I would probably use here. – Nate Eldredge Nov 11 '14 at 21:49
10

While mitigate definitely is appropriate here, I might argue that it has a connotation which suggests that it is the lessening of the effects of something bad. Which I think is related to how the word is typically used. Also, something of note is that Google defines mitigation as

the action of reducing the severity, seriousness, or painfulness of something.

Personally I feel it is somewhat awkward to refer to the seriousness or severity of something good.

All of that aside, I feel a more appropriate word for the sentence is diminish.

employing some tactic was OK but could diminish many of the good effects of the main action

(Another good word that is used here in other answers as part of some definitions is the word reduce.)

  • diminish is irrespective of the positive or negative nature of whatever you're diminishing... it's about amount, or degree. – einpoklum Nov 12 '14 at 13:38
3

Adulterate: to debase something

3

How about a degradation of the positive situation?

3

Although the definition doesn't fit exactly, I've frequently heard the word degrade used in this context:

"employing this tactic is OK but can degrade many of the benefits"

I would reserve this for colloquial usage only, though.

2

A word that can be used for reducing a positive is dissipate.

Its second definition is squander or fritter away (money, energy, or resources). (Google Search Dictionary)

2

employing some tactic was OK but "could mitigate many of the good effects" of the main action

Rather than "mitigate" there are weaken, eliminate, dilute, lose, and negate.

0

Here are some additional verbs, not yet mentioned, that can be used.

pollute, “To make something ... less suitable for some activity...” — en.wiktionary
tarnish, “To soil, sully, damage or compromise” — en.wiktionary
sully, “to soil or stain; to dirty” and “to damage or corrupt” — en.wiktionary
soil, “To stain or mar, as with infamy or disgrace; to tarnish; to sully” and “To make invalid, to ruin” — en.wiktionary
besmirch, “To make dirty; to soil” and “To tarnish, especially someone's reputation; to debase” — en.wiktionary
taint, “To contaminate or corrupt (something)...” — en.wiktionary
contaminate, “To soil or corrupt by contact; to tarnish; to pollute” — en.wiktionary
depreciate, “(transitive) To lessen in price or estimated value; to lower the worth of...” — en.wiktionary [Eg, “This sub-action will depreciate the value of the main action.”]

-2

"His sour expression minimized the effectiveness of his apology".

protected by Mari-Lou A Nov 13 '14 at 5:17

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