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.




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