1 : deadly or pernicious in influence
2 : foreboding or threatening evil
"His face might have been chiselled out of marble, so hard and set was its expression, while its eyes glowed with a baleful light." — Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet, 1887
"Out of nowhere, a huge fad sweeps the country. It dominates social media and leads to a blizzard of think pieces, which are followed almost immediately by a backlash, as critics warn of the fad’s baleful consequences." — James Surowiecki, The New Yorker, July 25, 2016
Did You Know?
The bale of baleful comes from Old English bealu ("evil"), and the bane of the similar-looking baneful comes from Old English bana ("slayer" or "murderer"). Baleful and baneful are alike in meaning as well as appearance, and they are sometimes used in quite similar contexts—but they usually differ in emphasis. Baleful typically describes what threatens or portends evil (e.g., "a baleful look," "baleful predictions"). Baneful applies typically to what causes evil or destruction (e.g., "a baneful secret," "the baneful bite of the serpent"). Both words are used to modify terms like influence, effect, and result, and in such uses there is little that distinguishes them.
Test Your Vocabulary with M-W Quizzes
Name That Synonym
Unscramble the letters to create a synonym of baleful: EACLFMI.VIEW THE ANSWER
Theme music by Joshua Stamper ©2006 New Jerusalem Music/ASCAP