I've picked up this word 'scourge' from Jerome K. Jerome's book "Three men in the boat" and when I actually used it with a native-speaker (Australian) she wouldn't understand it asking me what does scourge mean. Then I found out 'bane' can be used instead. What is the difference? Is 'scourge' more obsolete and fancy and I should avoid it because people will not understand me?

Google translate:

Scourge - a person or thing that causes great trouble or suffering.

Bane - a cause of great distress or annoyance.

Collins dictionary:

Scourge - a means of inflicting punishment or suffering

Bane - a person or thing that causes misery or distress (esp in the phrase bane of one's life)

Seems like the meaning is almost the same.

Google trends show how 'bane' is used 7x times more frequently comparing to 'scourge' now:


What is interesting is that 'scourge' seems to be used more frequently in books: there is an n-gram

  • Hello, Nemoden. The downvote is probably because you haven't added reasonable research (dictionary definitions). Though I'd guess that these won't give a clear answer to your question, you should show that you have made the effort by adding one or two (near-identical?) definitions. Members will be more willing to do more detailed research then. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 12 '18 at 0:29
  • Hi, thank you for pointing that out, I've updated the question. – Nemoden Mar 12 '18 at 1:00
  • 2
    "Bane" is probably the less-popular term (at least in the US), and tends to carry a connotation of a "potion" or poison that causes ill, while "scourge" implies more of an illness or infestation. – Hot Licks Mar 12 '18 at 2:22
  • It's pretty clear to me why "bane" is such a popular search term in Google Trends. Stuff like that is why Trends not a useful tool for comparing frequency of usage. Unlike NGrams, you cannot possibly know for certain the context of why someone searched for a particular thing. – Laurel Mar 12 '18 at 2:33
  • In a raw Google search, I see that 38 of the first 40 hits for 'scourge' are either dictionary-related or refer to modern games/fantasy. There seems to be only one hit in the first 40 for 'bane' that doesn't fall arguably into the same categories (the Trump examples reference Batman), and that's the name of a company. // The terms 'Scourge of the North', 'Isildur's Bane' and 'Durin's Bane' are reasonably well known, but are hardly everyday phrases. 'Scourge' and 'bane' aren't met with everyday themselves. I'd only use them in certain registers (The Black Death was the scourge of Europe). – Edwin Ashworth Mar 12 '18 at 8:59

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