Moral/Morale

The noun “morale” appeared in English in the late 18th century, also drawn from French, where “morale” is the feminine form of the adjective “moral.” It was initially used as a synonym of “moral” in English, but this seems to have been the result of some confusion about the finer shadings of meaning in French, where “morale” has more to do with a person’s emotional state than moral rectitude. Eventually “morale” in English came to mean almost exclusively the state of confidence, optimism, hope or simply contentment in a person or group (“To improve the morale of the entire mercantile community,” 1866). So now we have “morale boosting” (1960), “morale building” (1943) and “morale raising” (1946) to make us feel better about whatever pickle we find ourselves in at the moment.

You could make a case that “moral support” should actually be “morale support,” but I see two problems. One is that “moral support” involves matters of principle, not just the subjective confidence or contentment of the person you’re supporting. I’ve known some utterly unprincipled jerks who seemed to have excellent morale. The real problem, however, is that it’s just too late to change it.

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