celebrate celebrities, because because

One recent grammar activity in the textbook was building abstract nouns from a given concrete noun, verb or adjective plus one of give set of seven suffixes: –hood, –ship, –dom, –ity, –ness, -(a)tion and –ment. One of the given words was celebrate. The expected answer is celebration, but one student wrote celebrity. In real life, yes, in this activity no. Maybe in these days of manufactured famous-for-being-famous “celebrities”, we lose sight of the fact that we (should) celebrate celebrities and celebrities are, literally, celebrated. A celebrated tv star is very different from a celebrity tv star (though in one or two cases I won’t name, it could be arguable exactly which side of the coin s/he is on).

But in this activity celebrat(e) + ity results in celebratity, which is wrong. But are we limited to root + suffix, or can we make other spelling changes? There’s the drop-the-e rule, obviously, and another example was possible > possibility, which needs the insertion of an i. And is celebrity an abstract noun? No and yes. We most often talk about a celebrity (concrete), but we can also talk about the idea of celebrity (abstract).

Another grammar activity was conjunctions. Possibly the same student asked “How many times can we use because in one sentence?”. I immediately thought about sentences like A because B because C because etc, but I asked him for an example. He said “I can make a sentence with three because, because because is a conjunction”. Not really. I talked to him about mention and use. The first and third occurrences of because are mentions. When he spoke the sentence, he stressed those words slightly. When I wrote it on the board, I put quotation marks around them (we might also italicise (as I have done here) or underline). We could equally say “I can make a sentence with three of this word, because this word is a conjunction. In other words, they are not functioning as conjunctions.

The second ummm use* of because is a use. It really is functioning as a conjunction and we can’t say “I can make a sentence with three because, this word because is a conjunction. We might use another conjunction with the same meaning — “I can make a sentence with three since, since since is a conjunction” — but we can’t use a conjunction with another meaning — “I can make a sentence with three yet, yet yet is a conjunction”.

(*Use also has its usual/natural natural meaning. In the previous  paragraph, I originally wrote “The first and third uses of because are mentions”, but realised how ambiguous that is.) (There’s also a minor point of whether the first because should be becauses.)

I did ummm mention that some school students, when asked to use some long word in a sentence, say or write “I do not know what [this long word] means”. This is use in the usual/natural sense, but not in the technical one.

I had previously played part of Kool and the Gang’s Celebration and Pharrell Williams’ Happy. I thought about playing We’re off to see the wizard, but didn’t.


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