Revenging Avenge or Avenging Revenge?
A Conundrum for Proofreaders and Copy-editors
Remember John Steed and Emma Peel? Each week the intrepid pair would set out to right a wrong, to redress the balance, put a bad guy back in his box. Usually the villain threatened the stability of the State or even the world. It was all very innocent fun, Steed with Savile Row suit and bowler and Mrs Peel in the height of sixties’ casual fashion. The series was titled The Avengers and it often pops up on the TV nostalgia-fest channels.*
Note that it is The Avengers not The Revengers.
Sadly, perhaps, the distinction is not lost on a good proofreader or copy-editor; it is the sort of thing we thrive on, our meat and drink, the spice in our lives.
You see, to avenge means to get justice for someone else, to put matters right on behalf of a third party who has been wronged. But revenge is traditionally what we get for ourselves if we have suffered a wrong. Revenge is not wholly laudable but may be satisfying and is sometimes necessary. But it is never altruistic and may be disproportionately harsh. Revenge is sweet maybe, but is motivated by bitterness.
Problem for Copy-editors and Proofreaders
The problem is that the distinction is disappearing along with the golden age of civilisation which everyone imagines existed sometime in their early youth. Whereas when I was a young copy-editor I would have leapt with glee on avenge or revenge being used in the wrong context, I would probably now shrug and move on. Look at these examples and ask yourself whether you would interfere.
He revenged his father’s murder.
I shall avenge my unfair sacking.
Ten or twenty years ago I would have had no hesitation. Now I’m not so sure and it would depend on the context. Bit of a shame, but language changes and proofreaders and editors must learn to change with it. Our job is to reflect current usage, not to stem the tide.
*Definitely not to be confused with this.