I am currently writing my company's blog, using one of Sherlock Holmes series, Scandal in Bohemia.

In the course of reading, I encountered a sentence.

"The circumstances are of great delicacy, and every precaution has to be taken to quench what might grow to be an immense scandal and seriously compromise one of the reigning families of Europe. To speak plainly, the matter implicates the great House of Ormstein, hereditary kings of Bohemia."

Here, I got confused about the verb "compromise" since to me it ordinarily addresses "some kind of mutual piece".

So I checked the dictionary, Merriam Unabridged.

Merriam Unabridged says,

transitive verb



a of an arbiter : to adjust or settle (a difference) between parties

b : to bind by mutual agreement


of factions : to adjust or settle by partial mutual relinquishment of principles, position, or claims : settle by coming to terms

"husband and wife compromised their differences"


a : to put in jeopardy : endanger (as life, reputation, or dignity) by some act that cannot be recalled : expose to suspicion, discredit, or mischief

"compromise one's conscience"

"compromise national security"

b : to cause (a person) embarrassment, humiliation, or shame by improper sexual advances or by allowing the suspicion of such to arise

"in those days a girl was compromised if she danced more than twice with the same man"

c : to reveal or expose to unauthorized persons and especially to an enemy (the nature, details, or workings of classified matter or a classified device)

"capture of a number of unenciphered messages will compromise the cryptographic system"

d : to cause the impairment of

"a compromised immune system"

"a seriously compromised patient"

intransitive verb


a : to come to a settlement or agreement by mutual concession

"union and employer agreed to compromise"

b : to find or follow a way between extremes


to make a shameful or disreputable concession

"rather die than compromise"

— often used with with

Now, I understand the definition of the verb in the context falls under the transitive verb's 3 a considering the context.

However, if you look at the whole sets of definition by the dictionary, even the definitions within transitive verbs vary or moreover contradicts.

In such a circumstances, would the best way to solve to decide which definition (or meaning) be "just get used to" or "to memorize"?

  • Is your question "would the best way to solve to decide which definition ( or meaning ) be "just get used to" or "to memorize"?" about this particular word, or about learning English in general? Jul 24, 2018 at 5:43
  • Thank you for your feedback. It is about learning English in general. If this question is not good, I will delete. ( Since I can see 1 close vote )
    – user193343
    Jul 24, 2018 at 5:45
  • 1
    That's probably too broad for ELU, but might be worth asking on our sister site English Language Learners (search there first in case it's already been asked). Or a moderator can migrate this question there. My own answer would be that the best way to learn all the different meanings and nuances is to read English as widely as possible, listen to English speakers as much as possible, and practise speaking and writing as often as possible, especially with people who can correct you on usage. :-) Jul 24, 2018 at 5:55
  • @Chappo Thank you for your comment. The reason why I asked this question here is because of its broadness and the etymological issue. Since I have accepted an answer, kindly close this should you consider this post unfit here. Thank you again.
    – user193343
    Jul 24, 2018 at 7:21
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    Every language (I imagine) has some words that can mean opposite or conflicting things depending on context. A well-known example in English is the verb sanction, which can mean to authorize or approve of or to penalize. Probably you can think of similar examples in your own primary language. The only way to work out which meaning the speaker or writer has in mind is by considering the word in the context in which it appears—and even doing that will sometimes not fully resolve the question.
    – Sven Yargs
    Jul 25, 2018 at 17:31

1 Answer 1


The meanings are the same. The context changes the way you look at it.

Compromise (Webster):

late Middle English (denoting mutual consent to arbitration): from Old French compromis, from late Latin compromissum ‘a consent to arbitration,’ neuter past participle of compromittere, from com- ‘together’ + promittere (see promise).

To permit to arbitration. To allow to come together. To account for other possibility.

To compromise, as in a deal: To allow two parties to come together.

To compromise, as in your life: To allow for fate, circumstance, or the universe to have its way.

The new flavors that seem contradictory are extensions from this interwoven dichotomous (but consistent) definition.

  • I would like to ask you, kindly, is your dictionary a paper based? ( I would like to use online base, but since there are not so many that covers deep enough. ). And thank you for leading me to the etymological origin, specifically "to account for other possibility" ( which could extend to mean "jeopardize" )
    – user193343
    Jul 24, 2018 at 1:10
  • No problem. Webster I'm not sure is printed anymore, but here is the link, hope it helps... merriam-webster.com/dictionary/compromise
    – tidbertum
    Jul 24, 2018 at 2:11
  • Thank you for your comment. I sincerely appreciate it. I am bewildered the free Webster provides more information than Webster Unabridged which I pay to ( though around 4 dollars a month ).
    – user193343
    Jul 24, 2018 at 2:17
  • I can't see how this answer leads to the meaning "to put in jeopardy". Jul 24, 2018 at 5:41

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