Is the following statement appropriate?

A concerned expression starts to slowly spoil his looks.

I am trying to say that a person's expression saddens within a minute or two while pondering over something, but not instantly as would be the case when caused by shock


Yes, that is perfectly good usage. 'to spoil' can just mean 'to ruin'.

"The drunk clown spoiled the birthday party for everyone."

I'd rather question your usage of 'slowly'; do you mean in the course of a conversation, he developed a "concerned expression" and that made him look bad, or is it over a lifetime?

Also 'start' and 'slowly' are a bit at odds for 'spoiling'; a runner can start slowly but pick up speed, but 'to spoil', it sounds a little strange there.

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  • I was trying to say that a persons expression saddens within a minute or two while pondering over something, but not instantly as would be the case when caused by shock. – Skasi Jul 28 '11 at 16:33
  • @Skasi: 'spoil' works fine in either case. How about: "A concerned expression slowly began to spoil his looks" ? – Mitch Jul 28 '11 at 16:42
  • I think "spoil" carries more overtones of an active, personified agent (i.e. - a "spoiler") causing the degradation. Not that I'm saying @Monica Cellio's suggested "mar" exactly hits the spot here, but it does seem somewhat better - and it certainly doesn't suggest a personified agent (marrer?!?) in the same way. – FumbleFingers Jul 28 '11 at 19:59

It's an unusual usage, to say the least. Spoil normally applies to processes that take quite a bit longer than a change of facial expression, even though in this case the sentence explicitly says the change is happening slowly.

It's common, for example, to find reference to things like smoking, long-term drinking, smallpox, wearing spectacles, etc. "spoiling [her] looks".

Having said that, OP's example might turn up as a somewhat contrived metaphorical usage in "flowery" fiction or poetry, but for me at least it wouldn't hit the spot. Except if it were in the unusual context of "over a lifetime" as suggested by @Mitch (some crushingly depressing circumstance lasting for years, perhaps), which I might think of as inventive and striking usage.

LATER: I know this isn't writers.se, but I was never all that happy with "looks" being degraded by a temporary change in expression in the first place. How about A concerned expression slowly cast over his face?

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  • +1 OP, you might consider "mar" as an alternative to "spoil" for your case. There's still something about the whole sentence that isn't quite sitting right with me; it's correct but a little odd. But you didn't ask for a complete rewrite. :-) – Monica Cellio Jul 28 '11 at 18:39
  • @Monica: I hate to say it but I think that of anything what is bugging me about the sentence is the...ahem...split infinitive. Take that as you will. – Mitch Jul 28 '11 at 20:14
  • @Mitch: Is it okay if we take it you're a (non-closet) "linguistic luddite" then? I thought the Star Trek intro killed off the last of your kind! :) – FumbleFingers Jul 28 '11 at 20:19
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    Spoil says to me a permanent change not a temporary marring. – Chad Jul 28 '11 at 20:24
  • @Chad: Good point. I think that association kinda "comes with the territory" of much slower changes as I pointed out in the first place, but possibly the "permanent" overtones are even more central to the issue. – FumbleFingers Jul 28 '11 at 20:38

I respectfully disagree with FumbleFingers; I think the use of "spoil" in this sentence is perfectly fine. Like Mitch says, "spoil" has quite a bit of overlap in connotation with "ruin". It can be applied to anything that has taken something pleasing to the senses and made it not so. So, beauty, a pleasurable visual stimulus, can be "spoiled" by something that detracts from that beauty to diminish it.

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    It is a somewhat fine point, and I may have overstated my case a bit. But bear in mind we have no reason to suppose OP's subject had "good looks" to be "spoilt" in the first place. In the end, if we were talking literary criticism' I wouldn't seriously take issue with the usage, but assuming we're dealing with a question about whether it's "normal English" or not, I feel I must stand my ground. – FumbleFingers Jul 28 '11 at 20:06

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