Have you recently heard the expression ‘bane of my existence (or life)’ and wondered what it meant? If so, you’ve come to the right place. We’ll look at the meaning of this phrase, where it came from, and look at example sentences in this article.
In a nutshell, ‘bane of my existence’ can be used to describe a person or a thing that is causing significant problems in your life. Though it can be said in relation to serious matters, it is commonly used to describe non-life-threatening but troubling situations in a light-hearted and even sarcastic way.
The phrase ‘bane of my existence’ or ‘bane of my life’ is an idiom that means that someone or something poses a significant problem to the speaker or writer. This phrase can be used when describing another person or an object that antagonizes, upsets, annoys, or frustrates you in a way that disturbs your life.
The word ‘bane’ means “a cause of great distress or annoyance” according to Oxford Languages. The Merriam-Webster definition is “a source of harm or ruin: curse.”
An old word that isn’t often used on its own anymore, 'bane' historically was used to mean something along the lines of ‘murderer’ and describe something that is good for getting rid of or killing something else. For example, a plant that was traditionally used to poison wolves is known as wolfsbane.
Now that we’ve learned that the definition of ‘bane’ is something that causes ruin, harm, annoyance, or distress, we can better understand the idiom ‘bane of my existence’ or ‘bane of my life.’
When you describe something as the ‘bane’ of your existence, it means that the person or object you’re referring to is creating a scenario that is so problematic that it seems to threaten or negate your life or existence.
If you think of the older definition of the word ‘bane,’ the phrase still makes sense. If you take ‘bane’ to mean ‘murderer,’ the phrase would mean that the object or person being referred to is so problematic that they are essentially ‘murdering’ your existence or life.
Though this sounds like a very serious situation indeed, the idiom can also be used in a fairly light-hearted way for circumstances that are far from life-threatening. For example, if you are studying for a difficult exam, you might say that the test is the ‘bane of your existence’ to express that it is causing you a great deal of trouble.
When used in this type of way, the phrase is frequently said with a sarcastic, over-the-top tone.
The word ‘bane’ is somewhat archaic at this point, but the phrase ‘bane of my existence’ is still commonly used.
It isn’t precisely clear when the phrase was first used. It was used in a story published in September 1794 in The Sentimental and Masonic Magazine in the following sentence:
“Lindsey, from his earliest acquaintance with Miss Pomeroy, had been the bane of her existence…”
It’s possible that the word is related to the king of Scotland on and off between 1094 and 1097, Donald Bane. During this time, there was a fierce and bloody contest for the crown as the Celts fought to maintain a king of their own kind.
Bane is an old word that comes from the Old English word ‘bana,’ which meant “killer, murderer, slayer, or a worker of death.” It also stems from the Proto-Germanic word ‘banan’ which meant “wound.” It is also related to the Old Frisian word ‘bona’ meaning “murderer” and a number of other similar words from Old High German, Gothic, and Old English.
It wasn’t until the 1570s (to the knowledge of scholars) that the word took on its current meaning, “that which causes ruin or woe.
Now that we know what ‘bane of my existence (or life)’ means and the origin of the idiom, let’s look at some example sentences:
When the phrase ‘bane of my existence (or life)’ was used hundreds of years ago, it’s possible it was said with more seriousness than it is commonly used these days. While people do use the phrase to describe situations that are genuinely problematic to them, it is often said with a bit of sarcasm and an over-the-top tone.
The English language is filled with fascinating idioms and phrases, but many of them have definitions that aren’t immediately obvious. Even though it can feel like a lot to learn the meanings to all of these figures of speech, it can be really fun to start using them in writing and speech once you get the hang of it. Next time something is driving you crazy, aggravating you, or causing a problem in your life, you might consider using this idiom!