Friday, January 28, 2005

Apparently, I'm WRONG and I'm a GROTESQUELY UGLY FREAK1.

Dr. Ceruti ('Greek and Latin for English Vocabulary Building professor) today started complaining about people using the word 'utilise'. 'Never use "utilise" when you can use "use", and you can always use "use"'. He says it's the same as 'irregardless' (except it's not a double negative; just pompous). He supports the idea of never using a long word when a diminutive one will suffice.

In my post yesterday, I argued essentially that no two words are complete synonyms2, so no word is universally replaceable. And I'll maintain that position. 'Utilise' has a place in English, and not only in sardonism3. However, I seem unable to come up with a perfect example at the moment, so instead I'll fallaciously attack what Dr. Ceruti had us do in class.

For the homework, we were to take the listed Latin words, find the stems, and come up with an English word that comes from them. Then he wanted us to say what they meant strictly going by the root and suffix type (noun, adjective, verb, &c.). e.g., 'annual' means simply 'having the quality or characteristics of a year'.
But the nouns! For nouns to prevent us from adding all the extra information the English word now holds, he'd correct people with 'just say "bigness"', or 'just say "sharpness"'. Fine, sure. 'malice' is 'badness' and 'acrity' is 'sharpness', but then he corrected a girl's definition of 'novice' to simply be 'newness'. Now, maybe I'm nuts4, but I consider 'newness' an abstract quality, not a physical thing, whereas a 'novice' is a physical thing.4.5 These suffixes make a difference. Obviously he was trying to keep it really simple and keep us to the stems-and-type-of-speech thing, but what's so big and scary about 'a thing that is new'? He did something similar with '-age' (He'd mentioned 'roughage' earlier, and when against another stem he said we could just make 'Xage' and it was the same as 'Xness'. Wrong.5)

'There are no rules in language', he says. You can take a stem and put on whatever ending you want, and that's fine. I'll agree entirely with that, but the suffix adds a lot more than just 'this is a noun'. '-ness' adds 'this is an abstract quality'. '-ice' adds...well, the book says it adds 'an abstract state or quality' and that '-ness' (Greek) adds 'a state or quality. But a novice is typically a physical thing. I know that much.

Knowing the etymology is a good way to recognise the gist of a word, but there's ever so much more to learn.

1 I've been using this line for years. It's a good line. Nothing to do with what I'm talking about though.
2 I didn't put it quite so strongly, but I think that's probably the case.
3 'Sardonism' isn't in any dictionary I can find, but I think 'sardonicism' is there simply because people weren't thinking when they tried to nounise 'sardonic'. Here, Dr. Ceruti would probably support me.
4 I am, but I'm right.
4.5 (Inserted late; it's easier than renumbering number five) Actually, maybe the quantitativeness of it is what's important. I'd think about that some, but I'm afraid I'd have to rewrite this ramble, I don't don't feel like doing that at the moment.
5 Actually, while 'roughage' is a physical thing, 'homage' isn't, so maybe 'age' is fine. But what this demonstrates is that prefixes+root+suffixes don't determine the entire meaning. The roughage of Bob's personality' is different from the roughness of Bob's personality. Heck, as he's pointed out, 'money' comes from 'warning' simply due to a Gaulish attack and some noisy geese.


Anonymous said...

That sounds scarily like *gasp* /Newspeak/! One of the great things about the English language (or at least they're great in my opinion) is that there are countless ways to express an opinion but each word means something precice and different from every other word. To condense all of the words deemed 'unnecessary' into a much smaller range would be like a summary of a book compared to a book itself, or maybe a children's book compared to the regular novel. Sure, the story is the same and you can get that much out of it, but you're missing what really makes up the actual book.

LKBM said...

Ceruti recently went into a bit about how some things are physical things, and others are more like 'the idea of' and such. '-ness' and '-ity' versus '-age'.

Anyhoo, when writing about the term 'mesodermic' it occured to me that some words /really are perfect synonyms/. Mesoderm=mesoblast, and that's that.

Of course, as I wrote this comment, it suddently occured to me that derm!=blast, so maybe they're distinct. But is 'mesodermic' distinct from 'mesodermal'?

I want to preview this, but the stupid thing's borked. Please blame all errors on:
* Google
* East Carolina University

I can't post it either. I'll try posting from the Windows computer.

I can preview other stuff, but not this. HTMl looks okay. Don't know what's wrong.

Update: Success!

Anonymous said...

I'll be annoying and claim that mesodermic and mesodermal aren't identical synonyms, they're actually two forms of the same word. But that's likely untrue so I'll shut up.

Which leads me to wonder why I used the word 'untrue' instead of 'false'. Do the two words mean the same thing? I would picture it as 'untrue' being less strong and less negative than 'false', much like the comparison of 'disclude' and 'exclude'.

LKBM said...

Re: forms of same word
They're pronounced and spelled differently, in addition to '-al' being Latin and '-ic' being Greek.
Unless all perfect synonyms are the same word, these are different.

Though, Webster 1913 says 'un-' on a verb is the contrary, not merely the negation. I don't feal like reading the whole entry for the adjectival aspects. It looks like it discusses a fair bit of negation though.