You are viewing m_francis

Verbalocity, redux

Razor's Edge
TOF ran across one of those list-sites and found thereon 25 handy words that English does not have, but should.

One of the benefits of having a word for something is that one can talk about it without talking around it.  For example, the ancient Greeks had no word for 'velocity' and so could not easily discuss the physics of local motion.  Not that they were unaware that things changed location at various rates, but they simply called it 'motion.'  A constant velocity was said to exhibit uniform motion, that is, it's motion had a single form.  Acceleration, by which a thing took on successively greater forms of motion, was call difform motion.  But that's as far as they took it.  Terms like 'velocity,' 'instantaneous velocity,' and the like awaited the Middle Ages.  So did terms like 'numerator' and 'denominator,' which you kinda need to speak of velocity intelligibly.

Read more



Razor's Edge

Words change over the ages, sometimes in form, sometimes in matter, that is, the substantial meaning.  These changes are of two sorts in the final sense: those that make finer distinctions and those that coarsen them.  Call them splitters and lumpers.

The magpie tendency of English to adopt foreign words is a case in point.  "Why does English have so many words?" a Sino-Panamanian once asked me.  (The Chinese went to Panama to build the Trans-Isthmian Railroad which, while technically trans-continental, is somewhat shorter.)  She gave as example the two words director and conductor, which she said in Spanish were the same word.  So I conducted her across the room and then directed her to return.  Now both of those words were Latin, so I am puzzled that the distinction did not survive in Spanish. Otherwise, we are aware of the distinctions we make between sweat and perspiration.  Though technically they mean the same thing, there are distinctions in usage.  A ditchdigger sweats while swinging his pick; a nervous suitor may perspire as he comes to pop the question.  That is, sweat carries connotations of hard physical work, of extreme guilt, extreme heat, etc.  Perspiration connotes mere nervousness, moderate heat, etc.


Enrich Your Vocabulary!

Captive Dreams
On the Unprefixable, or
If It Ain't Yet Broke, Don't Prefix It

L. Sprague deCamp once wrote a story called "The Hibited Man" in which he played with the idea that there is a word for 'inhibited' and 'uninhibited' but what meaning would the root word have?  Hibited?  How does exhibited fit into this continuum? 

There are other words that seem to exist only in their prefixtual form or only with certain prefixes. 

This being Christmas season, one such word is "redeem."  What does it mean to be "deemed" and is "redeemed" to be read as "deemed again"?  What of "predeemed" - perhaps to indicate the Elect of Calvinism.  Exdeem, undeem, subdeem, the possibilities are endless. 

We can postpone a matter, but can we prepone it?  Repone it?  For that matter can we pone it? 

We can presume, subsume, assume.  Can we ever actually sume?  What about postsume or supersume?  Should Stanley have said, after the identity had been verified, "Dr. Livingstone, I postsume"?

Any more examples, folks?

Echoed on The TOF Spot:



Captive Dreams

Latest Month

October 2014



RSS Atom
Powered by
Designed by Taylor Savvy