An ingenius genious

I have seen the spelling


enough times to notice it. It seems to be used either by mistake or sarcastically in response to something someone else has posted. It’s not a variant spelling; it’s plain wrong, which varius other people on the internet have pointed out. But inquiring linguistic minds want to know why. 

ius is a vary rare English suffix. In fact, it is arguable whether it is an English suffix. lists 13 words ending with –ius, of which genius, radius and trapezius are the most common. All of them come directly from Latin, and some would only be found in ancient Roman contexts, for example denarius. All of them are nouns (as far as I can tell), but –ius is not a productive noun suffix. We can’t create new English words with it, unless we are trying to evoke an ancient Roman mood.
ious is a common English suffix. lists 276 words, including various. Most of them come directly or indirectly from Latin, but there is no restriction on the contexts in which they can be used. All of them are adjectives (as far as I can tell), and –ious is a moderately productive adjective suffix. Some unknown person in the 19th century coined bodacious and Roald Dahl coined vermicious knid.

The relevant Latin adjectives had the forms -ius and -iosus, seemingly interchangeably, but the path from Latin to English is obscure because online sources don’t give examples from every step through Old French, Anglo-French and Middle English. The modern French equivalents are génie (compare Arabic jinn and English genie) and divers (compare diverse), which doesn’t help, but see furieux/furieuse

In You are a genius, genius is undoubtedly a noun. In That is a genius comment, it is still a noun but looks, sounds and feels more like an adjective (indeed, some dictionaries define attributive uses of nouns as adjectives). If any change of spelling ever happens, it will be that the second use becomes genious and the word becomes a genuine adjective. But not if word processor programs can help it – Pages for Mac just changed genious to genius and is red-underlining it now I’ve changed it back. Genius as a head noun is unlikely to change spelling, and all those –ious adjectives are simply never going to become –ius

Complicating all this is ingenious, which is undoubtedly an adjective but which is more distantly related, coming from genus and not genius (though those two words are related further back). So some geniuses are born and others are made.    


The editor of your dreams

I was in the process of researching another post which I may or may not finish, and spotted an ad saying:

Find your dream editor

Is that an editor of the kind you dream about (if you actually dream about editors!), or someone who edits dreams? Given the disjointed dreams I’ve been having lately, I need the latter. You’d think that dream editors wouldn’t write ambiguous ad headings.

Note that “the editor of your dreams” is also ambiguous, but compare “the wo/man of your dreams” (and a “dream catcher”).

grave adultery

English (and I suspect every language) has pairs of words which look, sound and mean like they are or might be related, but actually aren’t. I encountered two pairs this week. After work on Monday I had to attend to an official task, so in my last email to my colleagues I said I was going “to adult” after work. The next morning I said that that result of my adultery adulting was that I have to pay more money for an official task than I thought I would. 

So are adult and adultery related? I had vaguely assumed that adultery is something which adults do, which is kind of true, but … ummm … no. Adult is from Latin adultus, grown and adolēre, to make grow, and adultery is from Latin adulterātus mixed, adulterated and adulterāre, compare English alter, change and Latin alter, other. Adultery and adulteration are related, but the former now refers only to sexual activity outside marriage and the latter most often to food(s), milk, goods, article(s), samples, drugs, butter and liquors. I pondered whether the biblical commandment also refers to the latter meaning, given so many other laws against mixing things, but Wikipedia’s article only discusses the first meaning.

One of my colleagues expressed puzzlement at my use of adult as a verb, but it’s reached major dictionaries:

Informal. (of a young person) to do things and assume responsibilities that are associated with being an adult; act like an adult (usually used facetiously about minor accomplishments):

(not necessarily of a young person!)

The internet is full of words and images along the lines of I don’t want to adult today. I don’t even want to person. I want to cat or dog or goat. (Note that in the sense of follow someone or something, dog is a perfectly good verb.)

I’m not sure how I got thinking about the word grave, with its two meanings of a burial hole and solemn, which could be related: a grave mistake is one which will put you in a grave, and your friends will stand around looking grave. But, again, no. The burial hole is from Old English græf, cognate with German Grab. The solemn mistake or looks are from Latin gravis, heavy. But the first meaning is related to engrave and a graven image.

I am in the middle of a burst of activity in researching family history. I have a moderately large amount of material already, so my first task is collate that, but in confirming that with official sources, I have found a lot more. One of my ancestral families has the surname Grace. Along the way, I have found the website Find a grave. Now, I keep mis-typing the two words, especially because c and v are next to each other on the keyboard.


In my recent post about initial consonant clusters, I didn’t include one which I know exists, because it’s so rare (but I did include another which is even rarer*). Today in an office supplies shop I spotted a bin of assorted acrylic paints. Alongside lemon yellow and burnt umber were phthalo blue and phthalo green. Wikipedia reportsPhthalates or phthalate esters, are esters of phthalic anhydride. They are mainly used as plasticizers, i.e., substances added to plastics to increase their flexibility, transparency, durability, and longevity. They are used primarily to soften polyvinyl chloride (PVC).” Other uses include in paint pigments and sex toys. I have for some time also seen it on the box for the roll of plastic wrap we use at home: it states that the product is phthalate-free (there are some health concerns about it).

But this may not be a consonant cluster. Wikipedia gives the pronunciation as /ˈθæleɪt/ (US) or /ˈθɑːleɪt/ (UK) (that is, with the ‘th’ of thick and thin.)

Continue reading


Two of my Facebook friends have reposted something originally written by Jason Alexander (I assume the actor; his profile photo is small and unclear). He says:

In WW2, Londoners were asked to black out their homes at night so the enemy  bombers wouldn’t see the lights & know where to target. No Londoner said, “It’s my right to have lights on”. Cuz others would say, “your light on endangers us.” Substitute “light” for “mask”. Now argue.

Unfortunately, substituting “light” for “mask” (actually, I think, either substituting “light” with “mask”, or “mask” for “light”) gives the opposite meaning than he surely means:

“It’s my right to have masks on” [so far so good] “your mask on endangers us” [????]

Among my other problems with this paragraph, Londoners weren’t asked to black out their homes; they were told, under penalty of law. 

Don’t get me wrong; wearing masks is a good thing. But people won’t do it until they can either see a benefit for themselves which will outweigh the deficits, or they are told to, under penalty of law, or a virus drops on their home. 

How is YouTube today?

YouTube is asking me the question above with the five possible answers: Absolutely outstanding, Extremely good, Very good, Good, Not good.

What is the difference between the first four choices, really? Either I can access the site, find the video I want and play it, and there is an appropriate selection of related videos down the side of the screen; or I can’t or there isn’t. If I can’t access the site, it might be because of my computer, browser, internet connection or some other circumstance not related to YouTube, and I can’t see the question and answers anyway.

I rarely answer questions like this online or on telephone calls to call centres. They are welcome to assume that they are doing an acceptable job until I tell them otherwise.

Totes amazeballs

I had never previously said totes amazeballs and don’t ever expect to again, and in fact the sooner it dies the better, but a lesson on ‘extreme adjectives’ was too good an opportunity. The textbook had several synonyms for ‘very good’ and I elicited several more, then mentioned that people make up their own, including totes amazeballs. (Another is fantabulous.) One student expressed great doubt that such an expression exists, but I was able to show her on Google. (Most sources on the internet cast scorn on the expression and the people who use it.) She couldn’t figure out how a word ending with ‘balls’ can be an adjective. Basically, it can be an adjective because people use it as an adjective.

Another point is that terrific, terrifying and terrible, and horrific, horrifying and horrible should mean the same thing each, but don’t. I didn’t mention Latin – I just said “Be careful about these words – they are different”. (Horrific didn’t occur in the lesson – I just mention it for the sake of completeness here.

I’m not quite sure exactly how I know this expression. No-one I know uses it. I’ve just read it on the internet enough times for it to sink in. The downside of being passionately interested in language.

‘Hear, hear’ and ‘Aw’

I have seen, enough times to notice, people writing in Facebook comments ‘Here, here’ instead of ‘Hear, hear’ and ‘Awe’ instead of ‘Aw’ (or ‘Aww’ or ‘Awww’ etc). These are homophones – they sound the same when spoken. 

Hear, hear!’ began in the British Parliament as ‘Hear him, hear him!’ – an imperative to other members to pay attention to what the speaker (the main speaker, not the person saying ‘Hear, hear’) was saying. Now, on Facebook, there is no element of ‘hearing’, and ‘here’ is a more common word than ‘hear’. Also, someone can signal their agreement by saying or writing ‘Same here’. Intriguingly, Google Ngrams shows that ‘here here’ is more common than ‘hear hear’, but I can’t find any examples of it other than in internet forum comments or in discussions of ‘here here’ v ‘hear hear’. I also can’t think of any context in which ‘here here’ would even be possible.

‘Awe’ is a real word, while ‘aw’ is an interjection which can express ‘sentimental approval or commiseration’ or ‘disbelief, disgust or protest’ depending on the intonation’. It is possible that a Facebook commenter is expressing awe at a video of a dog and cat playing together, but I doubt it. I also wondered whether the most common spelling is ‘aw’ or ‘aww’ or ‘awww’ etc). Google Ngrams shows ‘Aw’ a long way ahead, and has an entry for ‘aw’ but not for any of the other spellings.

Carmen as she is sung

Some years ago, before the internet, there circulated by various means an “English-as-she-is-spoke” synopsis of the opera Carmen, purporting to have come from an opera house in Italy. One version now on the internet runs:

Act 1. Carmen is a cigar-makeress from a tabago factory who loves with Don Jose of the mounting guard. Carmen takes a flower from her corsets and lances it to Don Jose (Duet: ‘Talk me of my mother’). There is a noise inside the tabago factory and the revolting cigar-makeresses burst into the stage. Carmen is arrested and Don Jose is ordered to mounting guard her but Carmen subduces him and he lets her escape.

Act 2. The Tavern. Carmen, Frasquito, Mercedes, Zuniga, Morales. Carmen’s aria (‘The sistrums are tinkling’). Enter Escamillio, a balls-fighter. Enter two smuglers (Duet: ‘We have in mind a business’) but Carmen refuses to penetrate because Don Jose has liberated her from prison. He just now arrives (Aria: ‘Stop, here who comes!’) but hear are the bugles singing his retreat. Don Jose will leave and draws his sword. Called by Carmen shrieks the two smuglers interfere with her but Don Jose is bound to dessert, he will follow into them (final chorus: ‘Opening sky wandering life’).

Act 3. A roky landscape, the smuglers shelter. Carmen sees her death in cards and Don Jose makes a date with Carmen for the next balls fight.

Act 4. A place in Seville. Procession of balls-fighters, the roaring of the balls is heard in the arena. Escamillio enters (Aria and chorus: ‘Toreador, toreador, all hail the balls of a Toreador’). Enter Don Jose (Aria: ‘I do not threaten, I besooch you’) but Carmen repels him wants to join with Escamillio now chaired by the crowd. Don Jose stabbs her (Aria: ‘Oh rupture, rupture, you may arrest me, I did kill her’) he sings ‘Oh my beautiful Carmen, my subductive Carmen.’

Continue reading