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vain

Syllabification: vain
Pronunciation: /vān
 
/

Definition of vain in English:

adjective

1Having or showing an excessively high opinion of one’s appearance, abilities, or worth: their flattery made him vain
More example sentences
  • A man should be clean and confident in his appearance, but not vain or pretentious.
  • This archbishop has, in my opinion, been a vain and self-aggrandising man throughout.
  • She was the most arrogant, vain, self centred person I'd ever met.
Synonyms
2 [attributive] Producing no result; useless: a vain attempt to tidy up the room the vain hope of finding work
More example sentences
  • He was yelling and crying, reaching out desperately and uselessly past the restraining arms in a vain attempt to bring his friend back.
  • There is irritating piped music, a vain attempt to drown out the background wind-pocket moan of the ventilation/heating system and generate some atmosphere perhaps.
  • We took to channel hopping in the vain hope that something remotely interesting would catch our attention.
2.1Having no meaning or likelihood of fulfillment: a vain boast
More example sentences
  • It's not a vain boast on the evidence of this season.
  • This turn of events, this sad return after so many vain boasts, would have made a shamed recluse out of a normal human being.
  • By and large I'm all for the right to speak your mind and give your opinion as long as it's of worth and not just some vain criticism thrown out for the sake of it.

Origin

Middle English (in the sense 'devoid of real worth'): via Old French from Latin vanus 'empty, without substance'.

More
  • vanity from (Middle English):

    In early use vanity meant ‘futility, worthlessness’, with the idea of being conceited recorded a century later. This is the quality condemned in ‘Vanity of vanities; all is vanity’ from the biblical book of Ecclesiastes. The source of the word is Latin vanus ‘empty, without substance’, also the source of vain (Middle English) and vanish (Middle English). In The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan, published in 1678, Vanity Fair is held in the town of Vanity, through which pilgrims pass on their way to the Eternal City. All kinds of ‘vanity’, things of no real value, were on sale at the fair. The 19th century took the name Vanity Fair to represent the world as a place of frivolity and idle amusement, most notably in Thackeray's novel Vanity Fair ( 1847–48). Vanity Fair has been the title of four magazines since the 1850s, in particular the current US one founded in 1914. From its earliest appearance in around 1300 vain has meant ‘lacking real worth, worthless’. To take someone's name in vain, ‘to use someone's name in a way that shows disrespect’, echoes the third of the biblical Ten Commandments: ‘Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.’ Since the late 17th century vain has also described someone who has a high opinion of their own appearance.

Phrases

in vain

1
Without success or a result: they waited in vain for a response
More example sentences
  • The crowds waited in vain for an encore, not quite believing it was time to go home already.
  • Imagine you tell her to come straight home, then you wait in vain for the sound of her key in the door.
  • She was one of hundreds of customers who were trying in vain to benefit from a giveaway deal.
Synonyms
unsuccessfully, without success, to no avail, to no purpose, fruitlessly

take someone's name in vain

2
Use someone’s name in a way that shows a lack of respect.
Example sentences
  • Meanwhile a so-called rival diarist has been taking her name in vain, referring sneeringly to her brief career as an author of bodice rippers.
  • For every Broons there's been a Magoons (Meet the Magoons was the short-lived Caledonian curry-house sitcom that was actually pretty good, but I'm taking its name in vain because I need a rhyme).
  • ‘Someone taking my name in vain?‘said Caroline.

Derivatives

vainly

1
adverb
Example sentences
  • A heartbroken family today paid tribute to the bravery of a 35-year-old man as he vainly fought brain cancer.
  • We had, vainly and absurdly, tried to unroll the garden hose.
  • She is being chased by some unseen creature and the camera sees the fear in her eyes as she vainly scrambles over rocks.

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