Grammar question: "Bent" meaning "inclined/inclination."

I’m having a heated argument with someone over (of all things) usage of the word “bent” to mean “inclined”

I’ll disguise the positions to avoid any perceived bias, because I don’t want this person to say “of course your friends agree with you.”

The contentious phrase is, “Graphically bent,” and the context is a personal ad.

One of the arguing parties is using it, intending to convey “having the predisposition toward graphic design.” The argument is that this is grammatically correct because “bent” is the past participle of “bend,” an adjective, and is perfectly acceptable, because “bent” and “inclined” are interchangable.

The other party finds this use incorrect, arguing that “bent,” in the intended sense, is a homonym of the past participle of “bend”, and a noun, and should only be used in a sentence as “[S]he has a graphic bent,” or “[S]he has a bent for graphic arts.” The position is that “bent” is a synonym for “inclination,” not “inclined.” There is also some suggestion that, while the phrase does not convey what is intended, it is likely to be parsed as “Explicitly perverse.”

Both parties are vociferously affirming that they are correct, and if either one gets any more hetted up about it, things are liable to come to blows. Yeah, we’re nerds.

Anyway, which position is correct? Please provide cites for extra points.


Dictionary says it’s a noun, (“knack” “hang” and looky there…“inclination.”)

An adverb (like “graphically”) cannot be used with a noun so person two wins.

I agree with Diogenes. I use it on occasion, and have never seen it used adjectivally with that meaning, even in the noun-modifying-noun compounds that seem popular these days.

Same as Diogenes and Polycarp. Before I read your explanation I had to work hard to figure out what was meant by “graphically bent”–I kept getting these weird pictures of a deformed human being, and the phrase “Get bent!” was floating through my head. It only carries the meaning this person wants when used as a noun.

It’s nonsense as written. Presumably he meant to write “I have a bent for graphics” or something similar. However with the current trend towards “verbing” people will probably soon be writing “While at college I became graphically bented…” :rolleyes:

I’ve always assumed this was an abbreviation of “hell bent”, as in He is hell bent on graphic arts.

“Camp Freddy, everyone in the world is bent!”

  • Noel Coward, as Mr. Bridger, The Italian Job

The image I get in my mind with “graphically bent” is a picture PhotoShopped into an unnatural position.

“A graphics bent” or “a bent for graphics” would be more clearly understood. “Graphically bent” would be someone with bad curvature of the spine.

I think the etymology of this usage of the word is “As the twig is bent, so grows the tree.” It has come more recently to be used as a noun, though.

Thanks folks. She has relented and made some editorial changes, so I can drop the ambiguity.

It was supposed to be a pun which was sort of along those lines. She had “Graphically bent, as per illustration,” and the accompanying picture was of her in a saucy pose, finessed with Photoshop to look a bit like a magazine image. (Matted against a white background, etc.) It emphasises her bum in a way that’s quite pleasing, as evidenced by a solid 9.4 rating on that unapologetically superficial “rate me” site that everybody likes. :smiley:

She was really resistant to the suggestion that (in the context she placed it in) that phrase carried a lewd connotation, in addition to not communicating what she intended at all. (I love her an’ all, but sometimes she has a sort of hot-babe-in-the-woods thing going on when it comes to the thought processes of your average Y-chromosome-carrying netizen. I think she thinks I’m just more dirty-minded than the median. Ha!)

Well, I’ll be. She hasn’t relented:

Does this argument sound correct to anyone?


Of course the participle was originally in play, but the fact of the matter is that to have a bent (towards sthg.) is a static expression in which the participle is used, and can only be used as, a noun. If she won’t see reason, she can go ahead and do it her way–but she can rest assured that no one else will understand what she’s talking about.

I just checked my OED. (1970 ed). Bent as in “inclined” existed but is now obsolete. Their examples come from the 17th and 18th centuries.

That’s interesting, uglybeech. If you still have it at hand, I’d be interested to see the usage, obsolete or no.

The only contemporary example I can think of where the adjective “bent” is used that way is Karl’s prison buddy in Sling Blade, who says “I was never bent that way – I was always bent the other way.” But then, he says “I got a real short attention span,” and any number of other lines that indicate that he’s better and murdering women than speaking English, so I would hesitate to use that as an endorsement.

I trust C.S. Lewis a little more, “To keep a human from converting repentance to action, let him, if he has any bent that way, write a book about it; that is often an excellent way of sterilizing the seeds which God plants in their souls.”

I think she’s getting confused by the way that other senses of the word are used with equivalence to other senses of its synonyms, and extrapolating total interchangability from that. (ie; “bent” and “inclined” can be shown to be synonyms in their adjective forms, as “He bent his head” and “He inclined his head” convey the same meaning, therefore “I am graphically inclined” and “I am graphically bent,” should mean the same thing.)

This gets into some strange loops. After all, there’s a certain isomorphism between “bend” and “turn” in their verb forms (“I bent my head toward her,” / “I turned my head toward her,”) which seems to carry over into the noun forms. (“She had a bent for writing,” / “She had a turn for writing.”) How about “She was literally turned?” :wink:

I don’t think I’d even be able to figure out what party one was saying. “She has a graphic bent” (though the wordier alternative works better yet for me) is what I’d go with. The first seems completely unnatural to me - and, in fact, if you describe someone as “bent” (using “bent” as an adjective, as in party one’s example) without referring to an obvious physical bend, I would take it to mean “sexually deviant”; it may not be a common usage of “bent”, but it’s easily the most common one I can think of in that circumstance.

No. Ridiculous. “Bent”, in this usage, is clearly a noun, at least in every circumstance I’ve ever heard it. The fact that it is also a past participle of a verb (which means, essentially, that it acts as an adjective) is irrelevant - the usage here is as a noun (though it no doubt did come, etymologically speaking, from the past participle.) People say “She has a bent”; linguistically, one of the things that define a noun is that it can be the nucleus of a Noun Phrase, and can appear with “a” or “the”. The fact that “bent” can be used as a part participle doesn’t mean it always must be.

Language is incredibly complex; linguistics cannot tease apart all the rules that a native speaker can apply (without even really thinking) to determine whether a sentence is grammatical or not. Simplistic notions taught by grammarians are even further removed from one’s inborn capacity for language. Any argument based upon logic that leads you to create a sentence that is unnatural-sounding is flawed, even if it’s not immediately obvious why the argument is wrong. There is an amazing depth of knowledge in the human brain about language, and it can’t be reduced to simple arguments like this one.

How the hell did that happen? Does this version of VB have a built-in Gauderizing filter? :o

That was my position – especially in the context of a personal ad. Since she’s my girlfriend, you understand why I was at pains to point that nuance out to her.