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"?

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    Just throwing in a link to our question about stormy petrels. – RegDwigнt Apr 20 '11 at 11:04
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    and "abject horror" – JoseK Apr 20 '11 at 12:20
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    "Look at Chicolini...He sits there alone...An abject figure." "I abject!" – mmyers Apr 20 '11 at 12:26
  • I just realised I use it a lot with "...stupidity." – detly Apr 21 '11 at 2:48
  • I recall once hearing a radio sportscaster congratulate a couple on "80 years of abject marital bliss". I would not hold this up as an example of good usage. – Curtis H. Mar 21 '14 at 20:41

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 TERROR        25  
ABJECT FEAR          18  
ABJECT MISERY         7  
ABJECT DEFEAT         7  

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:

Abject adjective collocatives

  • THe New Oxford American Dictionary also has "abject sinner" as an example. – Daniel T. Apr 20 '11 at 19:15
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    The extreme downward trend of "abject terror" is interesting...why? – Ben Crowell Feb 10 '14 at 4:26
  • The Ngram for "abject" (blue line) versus "abject poverty" (red line) is also interesting: the frequency of occurrence of abject has declined by several orders of magnitude since the early 1800s; but the frequency of occurrence of "abject poverty" has, in contrast, been remarkably steady over most of that period. – Sven Yargs Jun 16 '17 at 20:05

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.

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    Also: abject misery, abject apology, abject lesson... Just pointing out that there are a lot of these things. – kitukwfyer Apr 20 '11 at 12:21
  • Indeed - excellent examples. – The Raven Apr 20 '11 at 13:16
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    @kitukwfyer: er, no. "abject lesson" makes no sense. You mean "object lesson". – Daniel Roseman Apr 20 '11 at 16:08
  • Good spot and point taken (+1 given, too). – The Raven Apr 20 '11 at 17:51
  • @Daniel D'Oh! That's what I get for waking up early like a "healthy" person. -_- Thanks for catching that! – kitukwfyer Apr 20 '11 at 18:55

To rest satisfied with the present is a sign of an abject spirit. Washington Irving, Journals, 1817

  • I thought it was a sign of enlightenment? Living in the Now and all that. – Chellspecker May 27 '15 at 3:27
  • @Chellspecker I imagine it's the same school of thought that gave rise to "Show me a man who is content, and I will show you a man who has given up." – user867 May 27 '15 at 3:32
  • How times change. Whither work ethic? – Chellspecker May 27 '15 at 3:38

I use it with apology. Some acts can only be forgiven after a most abject apology.


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