Sunday, December 28, 2008

Word Tidbits: Expatiate

In one of those lexical coincidences that befuddle many, I recently came across the word expatiate in two books in a row. I can't recall ever having seen the word before, and so I immediately made a note to research it for you folks.

Expatiate acts as an intransitive verb, meaning that it does not require an object. It generally gets an explanation, however, because it generally means digression or wandering off-course. Thus, if you could say, “I expatiate,” and have spoken a grammatically correct sentence, but your listener will wonder from what or about what. Actually, they'll probably ask you for a dictionary.

The roots of the word explain its meaning. Expatiate, as are so many English words, started in Latin and is built from the preposition ex, meaning out of or away from, and spatiatum, meaning space or course. You could use it thus: the captain allowed the ship to expatiate until the crew were convinced that they were hopelessly lost. I didn't find any similar examples, however. It seems that writers use the word as a synonym for expound or digress, and sometimes a combination of the two, instead of literally indicating a diversion from an intended course.

“I found myself expatiating on the merits of digital music at Thanksgiving dinner.”
“Alfred expatiated on office supply choices and his peculiar filing system rather than contributing helpfully to the meeting.”

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Loath and Loathe

Loath and loathe comprise two sides of the same linguistic coin. You can find many instances of the words being used interchangeably, perhaps because the pronunciations appear identical in text, but the silent "e" in loathe indicates that the word is a different part of speech.

Loth, or loath, works as a predicate adjective and means that the subject is unwilling or reluctant to act. Often, writers use loath to indicate that a character doesn't want to do something that they will do, whether by choice or not. "Bob was loath to touch the gelatinous goo, but reached out a trembling, exploratory finger anyway." The word it pronounced just how it looks, with a long "o" sound.

Loathe, on the other hand, acts as a verb, indicating that the subject hates, detests, or is disgusted by something. "Bob loathed the way the goo oozed about the table, seeming to search for a way to escape." Check the Merriam Webster page for the pronunciation. I can't think of a way to explain the "-the" sound here.

So, you can be loath to do what you loathe. While some placed claim that the spellings are interchangeable, I'd be loath to use them so. It would serve only to confuse readers because they won't be able to tell the difference on the screen or page. Forcing them to stop reading and start interpreting weakens your writing and make readers far more likely to stop entirely. I'd loathe that, personally.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The -Ous Suffix

I’ve spent a few days searching for a definition of the adjective suffix -ous. One would think, given the thousands of English grammar and language sites on-line, that finding such a definition would be simple. One would be mistaken. I found many sites that purport to list suffixes and their respective meanings, but nary a one included a -us or -ous ending. Thus, I’ve begun a list of such words and an inexact definition of each.

I aim, here, to find a meaning of the -ous suffix for adjectives. Thus, the following “definitions” focus on what that suffix adds to the root word rather than the meaning of the word as a whole. As a rule, dictionary and etymology resources cite Latin origins for these words ending in -us. Then again, many Latin words share that ending and do not take an –ous suffix, so I can’t leap to the conclusion that those two circumstances are related.

If you know of anything that these words share in common in their respective histories, please let me know. You may see a theme emerging, below. If I find or learn more, especially a more widely-accepted definition, I’ll post again. Until that happens, my list stands as follows:

  • tortuous (and circuitous) - in a complicated or round-about manner
  • devious - in a deviant or devilish manner
  • capricious - in the manner of caprice (a whim)
  • joyous - in a joyful manner
  • felicitous - in a happy manner
  • delicious - in a delightful manner
  • porous - having pores (in an open or penetrable manner)
  • voluminous - having volume (in a large manner)