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What are the differences in usage between the verbs bedevil and torment?

For Example:

Hilda has been tormented by girls

Hilda has been bedeviled by girls.

Please advise whether the use of the verb 'bedevil' can mean torment when a person is the subject.

1 Answer 1

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"Hilda has been tormented by girls" would be more usual.

Bedeviled is rarer and it tends to be more abstract or metaphorical. Looking at the examples from Merriam-Webster, one they give is a common usage "bedevilled by problems"; they also quote "The theory bedevils scientists, none of whom have been able to prove it true or false." In both these cases it's not tormenting in the sense of directly causing physical discomfort, rather it is either niggling questions or problems occuring, and it's not done by a person. Instead it's a state of affairs causing distress.

In contrast "torment" is used as a stronger version of "annoy" or "tease": it often refers to the action of people, although you can be "tormented by guilt" or doubt. It also suggests are more painful and physical suffering than "bedevil". M-W quotes an example from Dickens that describes a persistent, unpleasant teasing: "She liked me, but she laughed at me, and tormented me". Torment can be used like this of children, but often refers to a more severe form of harassment or violence.

Hence, if Hilda is being harassed by girls calling her names, playing pranks, mocking her, and making her life miserable, then "torment" is better. Saying "bedevilled by girls" suggests to me not the same sort of bullying, but rather someone who may be inconvenienced by getting the attention of too many girls or something like that.

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