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Negative Connotations

Updated: Dec 15, 2021

Twelve years ago, I emailed a friend, congratulating him on his impending marriage. A few days later, we spoke, and he questioned my use of the word impending. He was under the impression that impending had a negative connotation — yes, he is a copyeditor. I checked Webster's and found that one of the meanings listed (1b) was free of any unpleasant connotations:

1 a : to hover threateningly : MENACE b : to be about to occur the impending Senate hearings
2 archaic : to hang suspended

That was then. Today, this is what Webster's says:

I have already mentioned in an earlier post that I'm a subscriber of the Grammarphobia blog (, which blends etymology with modern usage and grammar to concoct an irresistible cocktail. Almost exactly a year ago (in November 2020) the blog answered a reader question about whether the word precipitous always has a negative connotation:

I was reminded of impending, and lost no time in shooting off a query. The answer can be viewed here:

The conclusion: Impending can be used neutrally, but it is most often used negatively. My copyeditor friend's instinct was on target.

Another word that punches far above its weight in conveying negativity is only. Over to Grammarphobia:

Then there is "so-called," which —

Sure, sure! Have it your way. After all, who am I? Just an owl-pecked copyeditor.


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