What is the different between "alacrity", "fervor", "zeal" and "fanaticism"? I find these definition in Google:

Alacrity: brisk and cheerful readiness.
Fervor: intense and passionate feeling.
Zeal: great energy or enthusiasm in pursuit of a cause or an objective.
Fanaticism: marked by excessive enthusiasm and often intense uncritical devotion.

They all share a meaning about energetic, putting effort into something. One thing I know is zealot is the one who dotes on their religious. Therefore I think zeal means extremely enthusiasm. Another thing I know is alacrity and zeal are rarely use in modern English. I wonder if using them will make people think the one using it is pedantic, like vituperative?

  • You forgot to include fanatic. Commented Feb 18, 2015 at 8:54
  • I didn't know that word, but it's a good one. Thanks for your suggestion.
    – Ooker
    Commented Feb 18, 2015 at 9:17
  • Convention expects you to standardize all the bullets to either concrete nouns or abstract nouns. Fanatic is a concrete noun. Since you already have three abstract nouns, you should transform fanatic to its abstract form fanaticism. Commented Feb 18, 2015 at 9:26

1 Answer 1


I view these as normal English words, I use them and would not see a person using them as a pedant. On the other hand, I use vituperative too. To be serious, I think alacrity and zeal are not uncommon.

As to the different flavours of meaning, I think the Google definitions actually call out the differences quite well.

Alacrity: the key here is readiness. Typically I would use this to describe how someone starts an activity. They show alacrity at the point of beginning.

Fervour: is about feeling, the inner attitude of the person, their intensity. To me this has negative overtones; English folks don't do fervour!

Zeal: In contrast if somewhat old-fashioned, zeal is positive. It's more outward looking than fervour, how a particular objective is being achieved. I want my team to be zealous. The derived term Zealot is negative, tends to imply a loss of perspective, excessive single-mindedness.

Fanaticism: I'm tempted to say it's Fervent Zeal. Excessive enthusiasm, uncritical following of a path. If Zeal is very much about reaching an objective, fanaticism is more about a broader approach. We don't so much discern the fanatic in the approach to one task but in a general approach to many tasks, both in selection and in the single-minded disregard of side-effects. Curiously, we shorten Fanatic to Fan and it becomes a more favourable concept: "I am a Watford Fan" is taken to mean "I am a keen supporter of Watford".


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