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I came across the sentence:

The foundations of democracy are being vanished.

I hadn't seen the verb being used in this way before, is it proper English?

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    This is similar to the use of "disappeared" as a transitive verb to describe what happened to journalists and political opponents of authoritarian regimes in Central and South America, which became popular in the '70s.
    – Robusto
    Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 14:38
  • I'm familiar with "to be disappeared". I can't find its particular meaning in dictionaries either. Is there a good database that covers these meanings?
    – neuhaus
    Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 14:50
  • Per @Robusto's comment, to be used in a passive construction implies the verb is being used transitively, which is [still?] "non-standard" for verbs like vanish, disappear (though such usages are definitely gaining traction). I'm not sure whether I'd say the same about, for example, I can't just magic it [your problem] away, which has been idiomatically fine for many Brits for a long time (but I doubt many competent native speakers would say My problem was magicked away). Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 15:25
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    'The magician put the girl in the box and then vanished her. Just before she was vanished, there was a puff of smoke.' I can't see anything wrong with any of this myself, but it may not be used enough to call it 'idiomatic'.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 21:51
  • @FumbleFingers “was magicked” appears quite commonly in fantasy fiction, e.g., Tamora Pierce’s works; this recent Guardian piece referred to luggage that “was magicked ahead” theguardian.com/travel/2019/nov/03/… Commented Nov 15, 2019 at 21:53

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To convey the almost exact meaning (and assuming that are being disappeared, and by extension are being vanished, is unacceptable), you have to use a helper verb and the infinitive:

The foundations of democracy are being made to vanish.


Any verb other than vanish will convey a slightly different meaning, and it will become a game of synonyms.

Here, however, are a few possibilities:

The foundations of democracy are being removed.
The foundations of democracy are being eroded.
The foundations of democracy are being diminished.

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You can use "vanish" in the passive, but it's rare and typically used in stage magic contexts or in other situations where something is made to disappear suddenly and miraculously, rather than the given example.

Merriam-Webster lists vanish as transitive as well as intransitive. The common sense is intransitive as in their example "The missing girl vanished without a trace a year ago."

But according to Merriam-Webster it can also be used to mean "to cause to disappear". This transitive sense can be reversed into the passive, although examples are uncommon. The transitive sense is often used in the world of stage magic, with various tricks promising to "vanish a rabbit" (e.g. USA Magic Tricks), or "he whisked the cloth away and the rabbit was vanished" (Magic Cafe forums).

Another non-magic example is a newspaper article discussing a product that can "vanish spots overnight" (Manchester Evening News).

Hence "vanish" as a transitive verb typically involves a fast disappearance, like magic, so "democracy is being vanished" will have the wrong connotations - democracy made to disappear by a guy in a top hat and cloak. But in other contexts something like "a rabbit was vanished by the magician" or "her spots were vanished by the medicine" would be grammatical, although arguably awkward.

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