affinity/infinity/effinity

A moment ago I saw the word affinity on a website, which jogged a memory from all the way back in grade 1 of primary/elementary school. The teacher had told us about infinity. Soon after, a female classmate (my only serious rival as the most advanced student in the class) drew a picture of a dancer with a large number of streamers, with the caption effinity streamers. I managed not to say anything to her, but I was inwardly scathing that she had misunderstood the concept and mis-spelled the word. Or maybe she hadn’t misunderstood: the first dictionary I checked just a moment ago includes the definition ‘indefinitely or exceedingly great’. There was certainly an exceedingly great number of streamers. (If I’d had to draw a picture illustrating infinity I would have drawn stars.)

Another definition is ‘unbounded or unlimited; boundless; endless’. Most internet service providers talk about unlimited connection (previously dial-up, now broadband). One ISP is currently advertising limitless broadband. English allows for negative adjectives in the form un-N-ed and N-less (and also non– and il-/in-/im-/ir-). Unlimited is the earlier form and is still used almost four times as much as limitless. On the other hand, boundless has been (slightly) more used than unbounded since 1820.

There doesn’t seem to be any difference in meaning (though mathematics may have specialised usages of limit-related words). In terms of the internet, Google Ngrams records unlimited internet from 1991 and unlimited broadband from 1992 (which may be a glitch in the data – the rate for 1993-1997 is identical) and limitless internet and limitless broadband not at all up to 2008 (when its data finishes).

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