pro- and anti-

Everyone agrees that abortion is a Bad Thing, so no-one is “pro-abortion” – at least I’d thought until I researched current usage. There are enough usages to be noticeable. Most of them are part of “pro-abortion rights” or “pro-abortion-rights” (which is awkward however it’s hyphenated) and “I’m not pro-abortion; I’m pro-choice”, but Google’s first page of results includes “pro-abortion Christians” and “pro-abortion protesters”. But those are those writers’ description of other people, not those other people’s self-description. Another result is the Cambridge Dictionary, which defines it as “supporting the belief that women should have the right to have an abortion” (my emphasis).

Equally, everyone agrees that life and choice are Good Things, but equally “anti-life” and “anti-choice” are used. The first seems to be a distraction, because most of Google’s results are references to the Anti-Life Equation in DC comics, which I didn’t know about previously and won’t pretend to understand. But I can easily imagine some people in the current debate referring to other people as “anti-life”. (And no-one is “pro-death”, either. In my state of Australia, the current debate is about voluntary assisted dying.) “Anti-choice” seems to be the most used, but similarly by some people about other people. 

I’m going to stick my neck out and say that no-one self-describes as “pro-abortion”, “anti-life” or “anti-choice”. 

“anti-” relates variably with nouns that follow. Google Ngrams’ top 10 results are Semitism, corruption, slavery, poverty, trust, Christian, climax, Catholic, chamber (a mistake for ante-chamber) and freeze. Notable here are -Semitism, -trust and -climax. Semitism doesn’t seem to be a thing; Google took me straight to anti-Semitism. (Compare, in earlier times, Zionism (rather than pro-Zionism) and anti-Zionism.) Trust is a Good Thing, so being anti-trust is surely a bad thing. But the term refers to the use of corporate trusts in certain bad ways. A climax is a good thing, but an anti-climax isn’t against that; it either doesn’t happen at all or happens to lesser degree than anticipated.

Note that being anti-something doesn’t necessarily mean being pro-the-opposite or even pro-anything-else. Anti-government protesters probably aren’t pro-anarchy (though some may be); they are either pro-some-other-group-being-the-government or pro-a-change-in-the-system-of-government. And anti-freeze does not mean pro-boil. 

On the other hand, Ngrams’ top results for “pro-” are slavery, cess, duction, tection, vide, vision, visions, portion, ceedings and fession, which means that there’s something wrong with either their programming or the way I’m using their search terms. I was surprised at the use of pro-slavery. I hope that no-one is pro-slavery these days.

Note: this post is about language usage. Any comments otherwise will be deleted.



For one or two weeks, a large part of the east coast of Australia has received very heavy rainfall, with flooding and deaths in some parts. My city has been spared the worst, and I’ve been working from home anyway, so I haven’t really been affected. But two of my choirs have started in-venue rehearsals, so I’ve had to venture out at times. Yesterday evening I caught a train to the city for my church choir rehearsal. The train I’d intended to catch was cancelled and the next train was slow at best and stationary for long periods. During the longest delay, the guard made several announcements. The first time, he explained that the rainfall and flooding had caused “de … ruptions” on the network, seemingly caught between delays and disruptions. The second time he clearly said “deruptions”, the third time “delays” and the fourth time “disruptions”. 

Deruption is not an English word, though it possibly could be. But what it is about the word which makes it sound so awkward? After some thinking, I can’t decide. De– has a range of meanings including “privation, removal, and separation; negation; descent; reversal; intensity” (thefreedictionary) and rupt– means break, burst, and is found in abrupt, bankrupt, corrupt, disrupt, erupt, interrupt, irrupt and rupture ( Rupt is not a word by itself, but it’s not necessary that the root of a word is a whole English word, for example, decide.

In fact, searching online found two songs titled Deruption, which appear not to be typos, but searching for more information gets overwhelmed by results for disruption and eruption.

a veterate liar

A user on English Language and Usage Stack Exchange asked if inveterate is always pejorative. We most often talk/write about an inveterate liar, and not an inveterate philanthropist. Other users provided examples of inveterate readers, writers and travellers, and of inveterate habits, which might be positive or negative. Clearly, inveterate is not always pejorative.

I wondered about the origin of this word, which is not immediately clear. It turns out the root is Latin vetus, old, the same root as veteran. So why don’t we have veterate liars; people who only occasionally tell lies? The in– of inveterate doesn’t mean not; it means in, into. Inveterate liars are those who tell lies into old age, for example, [insert name of disfavoured politician here].

Interestingly, several dictionaries online record veterate as “Of long standing; inveterate”, which means that veterate and inveterate mean the same thing (compare flammable and inflammable).


Sometimes I find things of linguistic interest in unexpected places. The cafe near my house sells bottles of Burgundee Creaming Soda. That would usually be ‘Burgundy’ (indeed Pages for Mac autocorrected it), but possibly they changed the spelling to avoid getting a strongly-worded letter from the body in charge of geographically-based drink and food names in France. Or maybe they really did originally call it Burgundy Creaming Soda and really did get such a letter. Either way, they could argue/could have argued that burgundy refers to the colour of the liquid, not to any attempt to pass it off as coming from that region of France. (Pages for Mac also changed burgundy to Burgundy.)

But no-one in Australia is going to believe that Bundaberg brand Burgundy Creaming Soda is made in France. Bundaberg is a regional city in Queensland, and the Bundaberg Brewed Drinks Company is well-known for its range of soft drinks. In fact, the city is even better known for its rum, which I have just discovered is made by another company. If you ask for a ‘Bundaberg’ at an Australian pub, you will probably get rum. If you ask for a ‘Bundy’, you will certainly get rum. 

(As an aside, we wouldn’t expect boeuf bourguignon to be made in Burgundy (I ate it in Paris), but there are strict laws about Burgundy wine. Even so, lists ‘often lower-case’ burgundy as ‘any of various red wines with similar characteristics made elsewhere’.)

At the top of the label is the instruction ‘Invert bottle before opening’. And open it upside-down? Please invert and revert (or maybe evert, or maybe even convert) the bottle before you open it. 

Latin vertō, vertere, versus (turn), has given rise to a large number of English words (Wikipedia lists 120). Those in the form prefix + vert are: advert, avert, controvert, convert, divert, evert, extrovert, introvert, invert, obvert, pervert, revert and subvert. Closely related to these are words ending in –verse: adverse, averse, converse, diverse, inverse, multiverse, obverse, perverse, reverse, transverse, traverse and universe. In some of those words, the idea of ‘turn’ is more obvious; in others, less so. Most of the other words on Wikipedia’s list are derivatives of those, though there are some which aren’t (divorce and vertebra, for example). 

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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I read in passing that the owners of a micro-brewery are planning to expand. This will presumably make it a milli- brewery. After that, they may skip being a centi-brewery or deci-brewery and progress straight to being a brewery.

PS I’m being silly, of course. Greek mīkrós meant “small” long before it meant “one one-millionth”, just as mégas meant “large, great” before it meant “one million times”.

Grammarbites part 8 – Building words, prefixes and suffixes

Part 1 – introduction

Part 8 – Building words, prefixes and suffixes

Part 6 – sentence types

Part 5 – nouns

Part 2 – auxiliary and modal verbs

Part 3 – regular and irregular main verbs

Part 7 – pronunciation – the basic sounds of English

Part 4 – pronunciation – consonant clusters

This batch took me forever! Prefixes and suffixes are a major and sometimes overlooked aspect of English. The websites and books I consulted either had too little information with a random selection of prefixes and suffixes, or too much information (Wikitionary has 1,443 prefixes and 703 suffixes). Among other things, the same letter or group of letters can function in different ways: sometimes as a prefix or suffix with one meaning (or one of a small group of different meanings), sometimes as an integral part of a word which had that meaning originally, but which now doesn’t, and sometimes as a completely unrelated word. I had to find the right number of best examples Continue reading

‘Wilt thou leave me so dissatisfied?’

This week’s chapter of the textbook contained a lot about changing nouns into adjectives and vice versa using suffixes, and modifying adjectives using prefixes, including making negative adjectives. English has rather too many ways of making negative adjectives, including a-, dis-, il-, im-, in-, ir-, –less, non– and un-. Of these, a– is the most restricted and the textbook didn’t even mention it. il-, im-, in– and ir– are fairly restricted (compare illegal and unlawful), and –less can only be added to a noun. The three most general are dis-, non– and un-, probably in that order of restriction: we can say ‘uncool’ and ‘non-cool’, but we can’t say ‘discool’. (There are restrictions on the root adjective as well: we can say ‘unhappy’, but probably not ‘unsad’ and certainly not ‘unmiserable’.)

We have sets of words like comfort (verb), comfort (noun) and comfortable, but discomfort and uncomfortable. uncomfort and discomfortable exist, but are vanishing rare. Sometimes two adjectives sit side by side. Some combination of dissatisfying, unsatisfying, dissatisfied, unsatisfied, dissatisfactory and unsatisfactory cropped up in one lesson. dissatisfying and unsatisfying seem to be more subjective and dissatisfactory and unsatisfactory seem to be more objective: a movie might be unsatisfactory because of the picture or sound quality, but unsatisfying because of the story or acting. lists unsatisfactory, dissatisfactory, unsatisfying and dissatisfied, but dissatisfying redirects to dissatisfy, and unsatisfied to satisfied. On the other hand, unsatisfy and unsatisfaction don’t exist; the verb and noun are dissatisfy and dissatisfaction. Google Ngrams shows unsatisfactory and dissatisfied considerably ahead of unsatisfied and unsatisfying, slightly ahead of dissatisfying and dissatisfactory. So unsatisfactory and unsatisfying are clear choices, while dissatisfied is the better choice, but unsatisfied is not ‘wrong’. But there are two differences. The first is grammatical: Google Ngrams shows that dissatisfied is standardly followed by a function word (dissatisfied with, and, that, in, as, at, because, than, by and to) (and is therefore standardly used predicatively), while unsatisfied is followed by a noun more often than not (unsatisfied with, and, demand, desire, in, by, desires, longing, longings and curiosity) (and is therefore used attributively and predicatively). The second is semantic: people and demands, desires, longings, and curiosity can be unsatisfied, but only people (and maybe larger animals) can be dissatisfied.

Shakespeare has Romeo ask ‘Wilt thou leave me so unsatisfied?’, but we can hardly draw any conclusions from on random example from more than 400 years ago.

Practical cats

A few weeks ago I mentioned the musical Cats, and commented about translating the title and the lyrics into other languages, including Korean.

The first song is ‘Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats’, which is not in Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, so I guess it was in TS Eliot’s unpublished poems, along with Grizabella. Andrew Lloyd Webber consulted Valerie Eliot while composing this work. (Note that Trevor Nunn wrote the lyrics for ‘Memory’ (and see my previous comments about this song here.)) The song ends with a series of 22 occurrences of ‘adj cats’:

Practical cats, Dramatical cats
Pragmatical cats, Fanatical cats
Oratorical cats, Delphicoracle cats
Skeptical cats, Dispeptical cats
Romantical cats, Penantical cats
Critical cats, Parasitical cats
Allegorical cats, Metaphorical cats
Statistical cats and Mystical cats
Political cats, Hypocritical cats
Clerical cats, Hysterical cats
Cynical cats, Rabbinical cats

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wish … quit … directed

I love a good digression, and I certainly got one last night. The main grammar point was ‘I wish I was/had/could …’, ‘I wish you/[people/things] were/had/would …’ and ‘I wish [a person/thing] was/had/would …’. While the students were completing a grammar worksheet, I typed ‘I wish I’ into a Major Search Engine to see how it would complete that. One of the suggestions was ‘I wish I knew how to quit you’, which seemed a random idea. Further investigation showed that it is a line from Brokeback Mountain, which I have never seen, but which I know the basic story of. I showed them the video of that character saying that. Most of the students knew about the movie. A Taiwanese student said ‘That was directed by Ang Lee’, then ‘I’m confused about that word directed. Is that the same as direct flight?’. My gut feeling was that it is, but I had to check. Yes, those words, and others, are derived from Latin dērēctus, the past participle of dērigere to align, straighten, guide. reports that there are 25 words beginning with direct:
noun: director, directors, directrix, directrixes, directrice, directrices, directress; direction, directions; directory, directories; directive, directives; directness; directorate; directivity
verb: direct, directs, directing, directed
adjective: direct, directer, directest; directorial; directional
adverb: directly

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