I wonder whether I can use the word "impotence" to describe something as being weak or as it having fallen off.

I'm using this word in the "about me" page in stackoverflow.

Software, being soft, breaks our fated chains of martyrdom and escorts us out from the cave; the cave of scarcity. We are to progress into a new age, the cerebral age, if you will. The age where self interest will be de-demonized, but also lost due to its own impotence. We are freed from animal self-indulgence into a world where man acts, just acts.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – tchrist
    Commented Aug 20, 2020 at 2:05

2 Answers 2


Even in serious writing, as this sample clearly is, aimed at a serious audience, there is absolutely no problem, this being so because as a well established usage exists and as readers have no reasons to look for meanings that make for nonsense when the obvious one is pointed by the context, the real business in reading you is to understand what you mean.


(SOED) impotence 1 Lack of strength or power; helplessness; weakness; feebleness.

You shouldn't even be stopped by the real possibility that an educated reader, out of contempt for your way of thinking, simply because of being out of step with you for instance, could occasionally make a pun involving sex (not necessarily concerning you personally) in a derisive manner. Such eventualities do not usually condition the choice of words.

  • 3
    @DecapitatedSoul SOED, The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, a two volume dictionary (4000 pages, A4) conceived on historical principles. In particular it provides for each meaning the period when that meaning has first been recorded and if relevant the period when it has last been recorded.
    – LPH
    Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 9:56
  • 3
    "Such eventualities do not usually condition the choice of words." - counterpoint: characters in literature certainly seem to ejaculate less than they used to a century ago. Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 11:15
  • 2
    Even in less serious writing. "Throg shook the bars of his cell and howled at his impotence" is fine. Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 15:44
  • 2
    @LPH, it is not clear why you think that the 'primary' (which you put in quotation marks) meaning of ejaculation, but not of impotence, has to do with sex. So far as their respective etymologies are concerned, neither has any special connection with sex. So far as their most frequent present-day uses are concerned, both have to do with sex.
    – jsw29
    Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 19:33
  • 2
    @jsw29 Let's not forget that etymologie is one thing and meaning another. "Ejaculate" comes from the latin "ejacere" (to throw), which has, directly, little to do with the animal function. However, the introduction of this word into the English language is under the meaning "forcefully eject (semen) on achieving orgasm", and that was in the late 16th centurry and this meaning has been preserved intact and used up to the present day.
    – LPH
    Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 19:47

The meanings of impotence (aka impotency) given by Lexico are

1 Inability to take effective action; helplessness.

2 Inability in a man to achieve an erection or orgasm.

A man with erectile dysfunction is usually described as being impotent rather than 'having impotency', unlike 'having measles' or 'having the flu'.

  • @Fattie Is there a way to "migrate" it to ELL? I don't want to ask the question again and delete from here. Just move it there. I will delete the sample text too.
    – user352103
    Commented Aug 19, 2020 at 8:11
  • 1
    Don't be so measly. Or influenzal.
    – Mitch
    Commented Aug 21, 2020 at 18:39
  • 1
    @Mitch next will be 'impotenciness' - but I see the question has been edited! Commented Aug 21, 2020 at 18:41
  • In contrast to Both of my suggestions, measly and influenzal, are attested (non-leogistical) adectival versions of the corresponding nouns (but of course 'measly', like 'lousy', means something distinct from the sum of parts). There's no need for the outlandish 'impotenciness' since the pair 'impotence/impotent' already exists.
    – Mitch
    Commented Aug 21, 2020 at 19:38
  • 1
    @Mitch that's what I mean: the question originally asked about 'impotency' not 'impotence' which I answered indirectly. Hence too the off-topic 'metal detectorist' who I would call a 'metal detective'. Commented Aug 21, 2020 at 19:43

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.