Reading over an answer at the Skeptics StackExchange, it occurred to me that I had never really seen the adjective abject used with any other word other than poverty. Has abject become inexorably intertwined with that word, or are there other common usages or stock phrases? Also, does the word have a more subtle meaning or connotation other than an intensifier that might be summarized as "utterly"?
It just occurred to me that I know how to find this out for myself; it took a little learning of syntax, but I borrowed from nohat's bag of tricks and searched the COCA for
[abject].[j*] [n*], and these are the top 10 results it gave:
ABJECT POVERTY 107 ABJECT FAILURE 53 ABJECT TERROR 25 ABJECT FEAR 18 ABJECT SURRENDER 11 ABJECT MISERY 7 ABJECT DEFEAT 7 ABJECT DESPAIR 7 ABJECT APOLOGY 7 ABJECT APOLOGIES 5
As I remembered, abject poverty did massively top the list of these abject constructions; The Raven's abject failure follows closely after it. But their dominance isn't as overwhelming as I would have thought.
Just for kicks, here is the Google N-gram usage data for those top 10:
Yes an abject person or an abject character.
abject means in reality "despicable".
The etymology is from Latin (abjĭcĕre: to throw away): something you want to throw away from you (repulsive, disgusting). It's the same -ject as in subject or "alea jacta est"
The sense has somewhat intensified to convey a sense of strong disgust, which is probably why it is sometimes understood as an intensifier ("utter" or "very").
You'll find that "abject coward" and "abject failure" are also common. There is a class of words that share this property of only arising in certain limited constructions. When they grow up, they become cliches.
To rest satisfied with the present is a sign of an abject spirit. Washington Irving, Journals, 1817
I use it with apology. Some acts can only be forgiven after a most abject apology.