I love long words, but I don’t set out to use them in real life. For some reason, I find 20-letter words more satisfying than 19- or 21-letter words, or any other length. I started collecting them but the internet has made it less fun than randomly encountering them (search and I’m sure you’ll find). Recently I randomly encountered the word fundamentalistically. 

English words can gain prefixes and/or suffixes, but the latter are more likely than the former. Fundamentalistically is fundament (N) + al (adj) + ist (N) + ic (adj) + al (adj) + ly (adv). It is questionable whether fundamentalistical is a ‘real word’ and, if so, means anything different from fundamentalistic. Google shows 54 results for fundamentalistical, mostly on websites which I wouldn’t willingly read. Word for Mac doesn’t like fundamentalistically, autocorrecting it to fundamentalistic ally, then red-underlining it when I change it back, or fundamentalistical.

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Adaption and adoptation

A few days ago I hurriedly typed adaption rather than adaptation. Adaption isn’t wrong – it’s in multiple dictionaries and Pages for Mac accepts it – it’s just far less common than adaptation

Starting with adapt and adopt, there’s no particular reason why adaptation and adoption are standard, adaption is rare and adoptation is either very rare or wrong (Pages for Mac auto-corrects it to adaptation, then red-underlines it when I change it back.) Perhaps it’s related to the fact that opt by itself is a verb, whereas apt is an adjective. But that shouldn’t matter as long as adapt and adopt are both verbs.

Humans tend to want to say things as economically as possible. Adaptation and adoption are standard, so English speakers are more likely to shorten adaptation to adaption than to lengthen adoption to adoptation.

This got me thinking about the whole process of derivational suffixes in English. Humans will say longer word if there’s a change in meaning or word class. Adapt and adopt aren’t good examples, whereas act gives far more examples:

act (verb, noun) > active (adj) > activate (verb) > activation (noun)
act (verb, noun) > activity (noun) > do an activity (verb phrase) 
act (verb, noun) > action (noun) >  %action, %actionis/ze (verb) > %actionis/zation (noun) 
(among others)

Some people complain about or reject either or both of zero derivation (action as a verb) and overuse of –is/ze (actionis/ze) (partly because these are associated with business-speak), but these words fill a useful gap. Actioning or actionising a request or order isn’t the same as activating it, or even acting on it. The client makes or submits a request or order and the service worker ____s it. Google Ngrams suggests only receives, grants or refuses, which is not what we’re looking for. Fulfil is possible, but that means completing the action. Is the service worker the actioner? (Not auctioneer, which Pages for Mac just changed it to.)

See acclimate v acclimatise and direct for similar thoughts.

“Where is Canada?”

A few days ago I messaged my sisters about some information I’d just found about the family of one of our great-great-grandmothers. We’d previously had information about her husband, but not her, except that they married in Canada in 1863 and she was born about 1843. One of my sisters replied:

Where is Canada?

This is a perfectly formed question and I can imagine a child or parent/teacher asking it in the context of learning/teaching about countries of the world, but it didn’t make immediate sense in this context. I’m sure she knows where Canada is, and meant “Where in Canada?”, so I answered that question, specifically Saint John, New Brunswick. But I’m puzzled about the typo of is for in, given that s and n are so far apart on the keyboard. (Maybe she’d typed something else and autocorrect changed it to the full question Where is Canada? rather than the elided question Where in Canada? (By itself in is more common.))

Some time ago, another sister commented on Facebook that she was looking forward to seeing one of her children (who lives some distance away) “in Thursday”. That is more easily explained: i and o are next to each other on the keyboard.

Be careful what you cook

On the subject of cooking, a Facebook friend posted that a recipe in a major newspaper includes preparing dried shiitakes by soaking them in boiling water, draining them, removing their stems and cutting them in half. “After that, presumably, they’re thrown away, because that’s the last we hear of them.”

Someone else commented “Hate it when that happens, gives me the shiitakes”. I commented “But it was good practice doing that much. Next time you cook a recipe with … you’ll know exactly what to do”. Obviously I meant shiitakes, but autocorrect took over and it became:

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Pun me

In an online video/chat session with an international social group I typed that I have a colleague who can outpun me. The autocorrect in that software changed that to outrun, which is probably true but it isn’t what I meant to say. I saw the autocorrect in action and changed it back to what I meant to say in the first place. Pages for Mac and WordPress don’t autocorrect it, but red underline it.

Pun can be a verb, but it is usually used intransitively: He can pun on any topic you name. But we can imagine Shakespeare writing: Jest me no jests, pun me no puns. Actually, we can’t, because the word wasn’t used at all until after Shakespeare’s time. 

There is a website called Pun me and an Instagram thread titled Pun me as hard a possible.

For most of my life I’ve been the chief punster in most situations, so it’s taken some getting used to.


Yesterday, my wife and I had lunch in a coffee shop/café whose name is rendered


with the O as a stylised coffee bean. My linguistic analysis never completely stops, and I asked the waitress how this is pronounced. She said “Jez-ve”, so that’s not an O after all, but simply a stylised coffee bean. I then asked her what it means, and she said she didn’t know, but she’d ask the manager. If she did, she didn’t return to tell me, so I had to do some research when I got home. (What did people do before the internet?) If you don’t know, can you remotely guess?

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An amature mistake

I have seen the spelling amature on websites enough times to notice, but have never commented about it, either on those websites or here. I have just seen the spelling amuture.  

The correct spelling is amateur. Different dictionaries give its etymology as ama + teur and others as amat + eur, but the difference doesn’t matter. An amateur is a lover of what they do. Some amateurs are very, very good at what they do, but’s third definition is “an inexperienced or unskilled person”. It has just occurred to me that amature might be a (not) + mature, but that would be adding a Greek pronoun to a Latin root (which does happen). (By the way, the original Latin spelling amator seems not to be used.)

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Christmas hymns

Two of the most popular Christmas hymns are Hark, the herald angels sing and Joy to the world. We sang both on Tuesday morning, which sparked this post.

Hark, the herald angels sing is usually sung to the tune MENDELSSOHN, which is usually credited as, eg, “From a chorus by Felix Mendeslssohn-Bartholdy 1809-47 adapted by William Hayman Cummings 1831-1915” (The Australian Hymn Book). So which work of Mendelssohn is this adapted from? Something pretty obscure. The website states:

The tune is from the second chorus of Felix Mendelssohn’s Festgesang (Op. 68) for male voices and brass; it was first performed in 1840 at the Gutenberg Festival in Leipzig, a festival celebrating the anniversary of Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press.

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