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.    


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.


A document referred to someone applying for an Australian carer visa in order to care for a relative who was referred to by name and as the sponsor, the Australian relative requiring care and 

the caree

Caree, as the reciprocal of carer, makes sense and uses an established pattern of English words, and it it is difficult to think of any other suitable word, but it looks and sounds very strange, and is very, very rare. Google first asked me if I meant carer, then career, and Pages for Mac changed it to career (even though that doesn’t make sense in any likely context). 

One of the few official sources in which I found it used is the Australian government’s Social Security Guide (which was not the provision in question in the document I was editing). It simply says that a caree is “a person receiving a substantial level of care” and a carer or care provider is “a person who is providing a substantial level of care to a caree”.

Not surprisingly, Google Ngrams shows that the usage of caree is minimal. Surprisingly, it shows that carer has been widely used only since the late 1970s. I don’t know what people providing care were called before that. 

I can’t recommend or not recommend caree. I doubt if any writers of government guides are going to check my blog before they use it.

viral, virulent

The noun virus has two related adjectives, the more common viral and the less common virulent. Because of the different pronunciation, it may not be immediately obvious that virulent is related, but it is. In fact, it’s by far the older form, dating back to 1350-1400 in English and ultimately to Latin vīrulentus. In Roman times, a virus was ‘slime, poisonous liquid’. Viral dates from 1935-1940, surprisingly late, as viruses were first identified in the 1890s.

But the two words have diverged: while both words refer to diseases, a viral disease is one which is caused by a virus, while a virulent disease is a highly infectious or deadly one. Metaphorically, videos and advertising are viral and attacks and abuse are virulent. 

But the medical meanings of viral are still far more common: Google Ngrams shows that viral most often modifies infection, infections, replication, hepatitis, DNA, RNA, proteins, genome, diseases, disease (all purely medical). (Viral videos are a fraction as common as viral disease (at least in 2012, which is the latest data Ngrams has), and viral marketing a fraction again.) In contrast, virulent most often modifies form, strain, strains, attack, attacks, organisms, poison, type, abuse, bacilli (mostly medical). Note that form, strain(s) and type are part of larger phrases such as virulent form of malaria and virulent form of the disease.

instantaneously v instantly

A few days ago, an article I was subediting used the word instantaneously in conjunction with transmitted – I can’t remember which way round. I started wondering if there is any distinction between instantaneously and the shorter instantly, if there is, then what is it, and if there isn’t, whether I should change it anyway. defines instantaneous as:

occurring, done, or completed in an instant:
an instantaneous response.
existing at or pertaining to a particular instant:
the instantaneous position of the rocket.

It defines instant (as an adjective) as:

succeeding without any interval of time; prompt; immediate:
instant relief from a headache.
pressing or urgent:
instant need.
noting a food or beverage requiring a minimal amount of time and effort to prepare, as by heating or the addition of milk or water, before being served or used:
instant coffee; instant pudding.
occurring, done, or prepared with a minimal amount of time and effort; produced rapidly and with little preparation:
an instant book; instant answers; instant history.
designed to act or produce results quickly or immediately:
an instant lottery.
Older Use
. of the present month:
your letter of the 12th instant.
present; current:
the instant case before the court.

In some cases there, instantaneous and instant are not interchangeable. I’m not sure I’d like to drink instantaneous coffee. 

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Describing adjectives

I feel pretty

Oh, so pretty

I feel pretty and witty and bright!

Maria feels pretty. And she tells us so many times. 

Pretty and witty and bright are adjectives, which qualify nouns or pronouns, often describing an attribute of a person, thing or place.

There is no consistent marking of adjectives in English. In other words, we can’t tell just by looking at it whether or not a word is an adjective. Many English adjectives end in -y, such as pretty and witty in the lines above. Others used later in the song are dizzy, sunny, fizzy and funny. Witty, sunny, fizzy and funny are derived from the nouns wit, sun, fizz and fun, but pretty and dizzy aren’t derived from pret or prett and diz or dizz. In those cases, the nouns are derived from the adjectives: prettiness and dizziness. We can also make wittiness, sunniness, fizziness and funniness, but these are awkward and far less used than wit, sun, fizz and fun.

But not all words ending in -y are adjectives: later in the song, Maria sings “And I pity any girl who isn’t me today”. Pity here is a verb, and can also be a noun (“It’s a pity that every girl isn’t me today”). The related adjectives are the sometimes confusing pitiful, pitiless, pitiable and piteous. (Pity can’t be an adjective because we can’t say I adjective (or I noun).

And, clearly, not all adjectives end in -y. Others in the song are: charming (n and v charm), alarming (n and v alarm), stunning (n and v stun); attractive (n attraction, v attract); wonderful (n and v wonder); advanced (n and v advance), refined (n refinement, v refine). –ive and –ful are common adjective endings. -ing and -ed are also verb endings: charming, alarming, stunning and entrancing are gerund-participles, and advanced and refined are past participles. Well-bred is also a past participle verb (an irregular one), but the relationship to the verb breed is less obvious: She is well-bred. She was well-bred by her parents. Her parents well-bred her. Her parents bred her well. All Puerto Rican parents breed all their children well. Continue reading

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.

geology, geography and geometry

Yesterday, I posted twice. In the first post I mentioned the book Alex through the looking glass by Alex Bellos and in the second I mentioned the delight of finding that two words are actually related, or actually not. This morning, something happened to combine both those ideas. To explain what, I have to flash back several decades.

Possibly in my last year of high school, when some of my classmates were studying geology and others were studying geography, I used the little Greek I had picked up to figure out that geo-logy was the study of earth/land and that geo-graphy was ‘drawing’ it. Possibly because geometry was not a final year high school subject in its own right (it was a sub-subject of mathematics), I didn’t think about it as well. Also, modern-day geometry has very little connection with land.

But ancient geometry did. Bellos writes, ‘The historian Herodotus was the first to use the word ‘geometry’, or earth-measure, describing it as a practice devised by Egyptian tax inspectors to calculate areas of land destroyed by the Nile’s annual floods’.

(Compare and contrast astro-nomy, the ‘naming’ of stars, and astro-logy, the ‘study’ of ‘stars’, where the modern disciplines have diverged and refocused.)

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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