Source: Oxford Dictionaries
Everywhere I see bliss, from which I alone am irrevocably excluded. I was benevolent and good; misery made me a fiend. Make me happy, and I shall again be virtuous.
– The Monster, Frankenstein (Mary Shelley, 1818)
Frankenstein was one of the novels I had to read for Language Arts class in the seventh grade. It was my teacher’s absolute favorite book in the world, which is why she would have her students read it every year. Since I was only 12 years old the one time I read it, I can’t say I recall very much from the novel, but if there’s one thing I do remember, it’s that the book was packed with vocabulary words that I had certainly never seen or heard before. Some of these, the teacher would write on the blackboard as the vocabulary word of the day, and of the handful that I still remember, “benevolent” was one of her favorites.
A “benevolent” person is someone who is generally kind and well intentioned in their actions. When referring to an organization, “benevolent” indicates a charitable purpose as opposed to a profitable one. The word comes from the Old French adjective benivolent, which originates from Latin bene volent, meaning “well wishing”. This term is comprised of two roots: the adverb bene “well” and the verb velle “to wish”.
The above quote is from a scene in the aforementioned novel when the monster confronts his creator about the misfortunes provoked by the latter’s abandonment of the former. The creature begs for a companion, arguing that he is naturally good and that his loneliness and suffering were what brought about his evil acts. Based on this example, “benevolent” seems to be a good word to imply a deeper level of innate kindness, much like “altruistic“. Like the poor tortured soul in Mary Shelley’s classic science fiction novel, even a character known to commit terrible acts can still be good at heart (at least until their spirit is broken completely)!
What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?