Wednesday, March 25, 2009


imbue [ĭm-BYOO]
v. to permeate or saturate; to impregnate or inspire, as with feelings, opinions, etc.; to cause to become impressed or penetrated.

[From Latin imbuere ("to moisten, stain")]

Imbue is etymologically related to imbibe ("to drink; to take in, as ideas"). In their figurative senses, the difference between imbue and imbibe is largely that imbibe is more of a reflexive verb. What I imbibe affects me. What you imbibe affects you. What I imbue permeates someone or something else. Someone else's ideas can be imbued in me. Another difference between them is that imbibe is (often) more transient in its effects. Sarah left the Obama rally inspired, having imbibed her candidate's promise of change she could believe in. Because anything which permanently impresses itself upon you affects who you are, what you believe and how you act, there is often a religious connotation associated with imbue that is lacking in imbibe.

In 1930, Will Hays, president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, succumbed to censorial pressures put upon Hollywood by the Catholic Church. The MPPDA agreed to institute a new Production Code Administration, to be headed by Joseph I. Breen, a former newspaperman and influential Roman Catholic layman. In his book, Pre-Code Hollywood, Thomas Doherty explains the Victorian morality that Joe Breen wanted to saturate movies with:
Breen saw his errand in the Hollywood wilderness in grander terms than the concealment of skin and the deletion of curses. He wanted to remake American cinema into a positive force for good, to imbue it with a transcendent sense of virtue and order.

In his 1850 tract on how to teach Sunday School, author James Inglis explained how the Bible's lessons can permeate those being taught:
It is as needful to imbue our lessons with life, as to make them substantial. Yet different lessons must be taught in different modes. We must endeavour to imbue every lesson with its own spirit. Descriptions must be made picturesque, devotional lessons be filled with feeling, and where an object is to prove some great truth, clearness precision and good arrangement are what must be principally sought after.

In a November, 1994 New York Times column, William Safire wrote that the intellectual energy in Washington had shifted from the White House to Congress, following large Republican victories in the election held a week before. Yet Safire divorced himself in this column from one of the ideas being promoted by the new Speaker of the House to be, Newt Gingrich:
Libertarian conservatives like me recoil at the intrusiveness in Newt's call for a "voluntary" school prayer amendment. He's being inconsistent on his bedrock principle of individual responsibility: If parents want to imbue their children with spiritual values -- as more should -- the parents should take the kids by the hand to Sunday School and not fob off that family duty on educators employed by local government.

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