This is an argument I had with a colleague of mine.

We're trying to say that all the comments have been cleared, as per the client's requests.

He issued a report to a client, on which the client had some comments. Can you then, for example, send him an email saying "this is the report after vanishing all your comments"?

I tried to argue to th[e] effect [that vanish doesn't work because it means something like disappear], but he just referred me to another synonym for "vanish" which is "to clear something".

Could that be considered a correct usage of the word, even if uncommon?

  • It sounds as though he had simply deleted the comments and ignored them, which is presumably not what was meant! Better to say 'after taking account of your comments' or 'edited in accordance with your comments'. – Kate Bunting Feb 7 '18 at 9:49
  • What are you trying to say? A "correct" usage of the word is going to partially depend on whether it accurately conveys your meaning, and there's no way to judge that without knowing what your meaning is supposed to be. – 1006a Feb 7 '18 at 16:54
  • We're trying to say that all the comments have been cleared, as per the client's requests. – ahmed23t Feb 8 '18 at 11:37
  • @ahmed23t I've added some of what you said in your comments, which I think makes your question clearer; if you would like to change or undo my edit, or make further changes, you can use the "edit" link to the bottom left of your answer. If you have a citation to the definition that your colleague relied on, that would be good to include. You may also find the answers to the question Do synonyms have exactly the same meanings as each other in all contexts? useful (look past the accepted answer for general answers to the title question). – 1006a Feb 12 '18 at 20:01

The following from Word Detective, by Evan Morris & Kathy Wollard:


Awesome. Will it work with American Idol?

Dear Word Detective: I know that “vanish” seems like such a simple word; but somewhere between 1967 (when I was in high school and my dictionary was published) and 1983, this simple intransitive verb became transitive. It was in 1983 that David Copperfield “vanished” the Statue of Liberty. That was the first I had ever heard it used transitively, and I am curious when the transitive use first appeared. — Charles Anderson.


Whoa. 1983? We need to get you a new dictionary. It’s true that most of the really useful words are in your trusty old friend, and I totally understand loyalty to old books. I still use the Latin dictionary I was given in high school. But the great thing about Latin is that they’re not adding many new words to it. That’s not true in English, where new words and new uses for old words are popping up like worms on the sidewalk after a rainstorm. Good heavens, man, don’t you want to be able to look up “crowdsource” and “googlebomb”? “Moofing”? “Unfriend”? “Overshare”? Yeah, me neither. Wake me when we go back to Latin.

I must have slept through Mr. Copperfield’s “vanishing” of the Statue of Liberty in 1983 (I’m assuming he eventually put it back), as well as whatever usage the transitive “vanish” has enjoyed since, because here in 2009 it strikes me as jarring and strange. The first thing that popped into my mind when I read your question, in fact, was the use of “the disappeared” to mean the victims kidnapped by the Argentine military junta in the 1970s and never seen again. The original Spanish term, “los desaparecidos,” translates as “those who have been disappeared,” invoking a similarly unusual transitive use (“to disappear someone”) of a normally intransitive verb.

“Vanish” is an interesting little word, defined by the Oxford English Dictionary in the usual intransitive sense as “To disappear from sight, to become invisible, especially in a rapid and mysterious manner.” Our English “vanish” is actually an aphetic, or cropped, form of the Old French “esvanir” (meaning “to disappear”), which was derived from the Latin “evanescere,” which also gave us the English word “evanescent” for those things which, like youth and low credit card interest rates, do not last long before vanishing. Incidentally, within that “evanescere” lies the Latin root “vanus,” which means “empty,” and which also produced “vain” and “vanity.”

“Vanish” first appeared in English as an intransitive verb in the early 14th century, and most of its uses, with or without adverbs (“vanish away” was common usage until the 19th century), have been intransitive. But Mr. Copperfield and his publicity minions didn’t invent or even pioneer the transitive use of “vanish” to mean “to cause to disappear.” It turns out to have been puttering along in the background since about 1440 (“Thus are the villains … fled for fear, Like Summers vapors, vanished by the Sun,” Marlowe, 1590), although it’s never been nearly as popular as the intransitive use. It seems, in fact, to have been used since the 19th century almost exclusively in the field of stage magic (“Then he vanishes a birdcage and its occupant … Finally, he vanishes his wife,” 1886) or in contexts where magic is used as a literary metaphor (“Lenin conjured government by mass-democracy out of sight, ‘vanished’ it as conjurors say … ,” H.G. Wells, 1934). So Copperfield’s use of the transitive “vanish” was well within the jargon of his craft.

So the transitive usage has pedigree, but is rarely used outside the domain of field magic. Other examples may be regarded as quirky.


In short, no. As it stands, one has to guess what you mean by 'vanishing all your comments'; I take it to mean removing the comments.

This is how Oxford Dictionaries Online defines "vanish":

vanish verb [no object]

  1. Disappear suddenly and completely.

1.1 Gradually cease to exist.

  • I tried to argue to that effect, but he just referred me to another synonym for "vanish" which is "to clear something". – ahmed23t Feb 7 '18 at 10:01
  • @ahmed23t Hmm, well I've never heard "vanish" used thus. – Dog Lover Feb 7 '18 at 10:01
  • So I guess the question here is: can you replace any word with any of its synonyms? Are they non-restrictively interchangeable? – ahmed23t Feb 7 '18 at 10:11
  • @ahmed23t Yes and no. Some words' synonyms have different tinges of meaning. – Dog Lover Feb 7 '18 at 10:14
  • 1
    The part of the definition that you left out is the restriction 'intransitive'. 'Vanish' is (normally considered to be) intransitive and so does not take an object. That's one very important 'tinge' of meaning. – Mitch Feb 12 '18 at 20:55

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