Friday, June 29, 2007

Something We Like

We've subscribed to quite a few language and grammar newsletters. We particularly like Brian Garner's daily e-mails from the Oxford English Dictionary.

Today's entry:

-fy.. Most verbs ending in "-fy" -- from the French "-fier" or Latin "-ficare" "to do or make" -- are preceded by an "-i-" {classify}. But a few aren't {liquefy} {putrefy} {stupefy} because the corresponding infinitives in French and Latin are spelled with an "-e-" ("liquefier," etc.), and the words were borrowed directly from those forms. It's common to misspell them "-ify." The same switch occurs in the corresponding nouns, too ("liquefaction," etc.).

gabardine; gaberdine. "Gabardine" is the modern fabric having a hard finish and diagonal ribs. "Gaberdine" is the outer garment traditionally associated with Jews of the Middle Ages.

Gaelic; Gallic. "Gaelic" /GAY-lik/ means "Scottish" or "Irish"; "Gallic" /GAL-ik/ means "French." As a noun, "Gaelic" denotes the language spoken by the Celts of the Scottish Highlands -- or, more broadly, by the Celts of Ireland and the Isle of Man as well. "Gallic," though formerly denoting a Frenchman, is not used as a noun in modern English.

gainsay; contradict. Originally "gainsay" [ME "to say against"] was the popular word and "contradict" the erudite one. Today just the opposite is true: "This is an interesting example of the substitution of a learned word for a popular word.'Withsay' [or, later, 'gainsay'] is pure Anglo-Saxon, and 'contradict' is a 'learned' borrowing [from Latin]." James B. Greenough & George L. Kittredge, Words and Their Ways in English Speech 215 (1902). "Gainsay" is now a formal word more common in British English than American.

Quotation of the Day: "Murdering English is common on both sides of the
Atlantic." S.P.B. Mais, The Writing of English 198 (1935).

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