After 12/7/2011, this blog will no longer be updated, although content will remain. Please visit my new blog at Hidden Latitudes.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Not exactly combobulated with prefixes

   The English language must be one of the most complex languages around (my Ukrainian friends may demur; they use different words, for the same thing, when speaking to a female rather than a male). One of the complexities of English must lie in its use of prefixes. Some are straightforward, like un-, ultra-, or sub-. Others often seem unnecessary, like be-: isn't becalm the same as calm, befog the same as fog, besiege the same as siege? There is even a word smirch; it means the same as besmirch.
    The most curious one to me is the prefix dis-. According to the rules, the prefix dis- denotes the negation, removal or expulsion of the verb to which it is attached. This can be clearly seen in such words as disappear, disclaim or discolor.
But occasionally the prefix attaches to a verb that, standing alone, would not have an opposite meaning. We have all heard of disgruntled postal workers, but what about the thousands of gruntled postal workers? If you distort something, you twist it, but a tort is a legal term for a wrongful act. If I discard something by accident, and then get it back, do I card it? No I retrieve it, which makes me wonder when I trieved it in the first place. Dissemination seems identical to semination to me. It is easy to disparage someone, but as far as I can tell impossible to parage someone. If I am saddened at something, I may be in dismay. When I am glad, I should say I am in may!
My goal here is not to suade you that English is a ciplined language, nor that we should dain it without question. I just want to make the point that proper usage is not always the aster we think it is. To think so would be showing real cernment.
—Wayne S.

1 comment:

mickeyD said...

You're so right, Wayne, and well-written, btw. What I believe you are trying to say is that the English language is complicated because there are so many exceptions to rules. That's what I love about German: although the grammar is considerably more complicated than English with 3 genders and various endings (depending on the object and the gender), there are very few exceptions to rules. Our English prefix "dis-" is "des-" in German and is used to my knowledge always without exception to the negation in meaning. Also English is a conglomeration of influences from many languages; so there are very many synonyms that have completely different etymologies. Not so extreme in German: I can often see or hear a word I've never known before and know exactly what it means because of it's roots. Good stuff, Wayne!