A Dictionary of the English Language
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Vain. adj. [vain, Fr. vanus, Latin.]

  1. Fruitless; ineffectual.

                    Let no man speak again
    To alter this; for counsel is but vain.

                Vain is the force of man,
    To crush the pillars which the pile sustain.

  2. Empty; unreal; shadowy.

    Before the passage horrid Hydra stands,
    Gorgons, Geryon with his triple frame,
    And vain chimera, vomits empty flame.
    Dryden's Æn.

    Unmov'd his eyes, and wet his beard appears;
    And shedding vain, but seeming real tears.

  3. Meanly proud; proud of petty things.

    No folly like vain glory; nor any thing more ridiculous than for a vain man to be still boasting of himself. L'Estran.

    He wav'd a torch aloft, and, madly vain,
    Sought godlike worship from a servile train.

            The minstrels play'd on ev'ry side,
    Vain of their art, and for the mastery vy'd.

    To be vain is rather a mark of humility than pride. Vain men delight in telling what honours have been done them, what great company they have kept, and the like; by which they plainly confess, that these honours were more than their due, and such as their friends would not believe, if they had not been told: whereas a man truly proud, thinks the honours below his merit, and scorns to boast. Swift.

    Ah friend! to dazzle let the vain design;
    To raise the thought, and touch the heart, be thine.

    View this marble, and be vain no more. Pope.

  4. Shewy; ostentatious.

    Load some vain church with old theatrick state. Pope.

  5. Idle; worthless; unimportant.

    Both all things vain, and all who in vain things
    Built their fond hopes of glory, or lasting face,
    Or happiness.
    Milton's Paradise Lost.

    He heard a grave philosopher maintain,
    That all the actions of our life were vain,
    Which with our sense of pleasure not conspir'd.

    To your vain answer will you have recourse,
    And tell 'tis ingenite active force.

  6. False; not true.

  7. In Vain. To no purpose; to no end; ineffectually; without effect.

    He tempts in vain. Milton.

    Providence and nature never did any thing in vain. L'Estr.

    Strong Halys stands in vain; weak Phlegys flies. Dryd.

    The philosophers of old did in vain enquire whether summum bonum consisted in riches, bodily delights, virtue, or contemplation. Locke.

    If we hope for what we are not likely to possess, we act and think in vain, and make life a greater dream and shadow than it really is. Addison's Spectator.

    If from this discourse one honest man shall receive satisfaction, I shall think that I have not written nor lived in vain. West on the Resurrection.

Sources: Addison, Joseph (408) · Blackmore, Richard (24) · Denham, John (75) · Dryden, John (788) · L'Estrange, Roger (131) · Locke, John (269) · Milton, John (449) · Pope, Alexander (393) · Shakespeare's Richard II (40) · Spectator (140) · Swift, Jonathan (306) · West, Gilbert (1)

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Cite this page: Johnson, Samuel. "Vain." A Dictionary of the English Language: A Digital Edition of the 1755 Classic by Samuel Johnson. Edited by Brandi Besalke. Last modified: November 12, 2012. https://johnsonsdictionaryonline.com/vain/.

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