The Boston Diaries

The ongoing saga of a programmer who doesn't live in Boston, nor does he even like Boston, but yet named his weblog/journal “The Boston Diaries.”

Go figure.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Pleonasmologist

Bunny acts as my editor, sending me spelling errors and grammar mistakes. So it wasn't terribly surprising to find the following note from her:

“maniacally” as in “laughing” …

I knew when writing this entry that I was in trouble with the word “maniacly.” “But I did a Google search,” I said to Bunny. “And that's what came out.”

Bunny looked at me suspiciously, and started a few Google searches of her own. And she found:

Morphemes, not just words, can enter the realm of pleonasm: Some word-parts are simply optional in various languages and dialects. A familiar example to American English speakers would be the allegedly optional “-al-”, probably most commonly seen in “publically” vs. “publicly”—both spellings are considered correct/acceptable in American English, and both pronounced the same, in this dialect, rendering the “publically” spelling pleonastic in US English; in other dialects it is “required”, while it is quite conceivable that in another generation or so of American English it will be “forbidden”. This treatment of words ending in “-ic”, “-ac”, etc., is quite inconsistent in US English—compare “maniacally” or “forensically” with “eroticly” or “heroicly”; “forensicly” doesn't look “right” to any English speakers, but “erotically” doesn't look “right” to many Americans. Some (mostly US-based) prescriptive grammar pundits would say that the “-ly” not “-ally” form is “correct” in any case in which there is no “-ical” variant of the basic word, and vice versa; i.e. “maniacally”, not “maniacly”, is correct because “maniacal” is a word, while “agnosticly”, not “agnostically”, must be correct because "agnostical" is (arguably) not a real word. This logic is in doubt, since most if not all “-ical” constructions arguably are “real” words and most have certainly occurred more than once in “reputable” publications, and are also immediately understood by any educated reader of English even if they “look funny” to some, or do not appear in popular dictionaries. Additionally, there are numerous examples of words that have very widely-accepted extended forms that have skipped one or more intermediary forms, e.g. “disestablishmentarian” in the absence of “disestablishmentary”. At any rate, while some US editors might consider “-ally” vs. “-ly” to be pleonastic in some cases, the vast majority of other English speakers would not, and many “-ally” words are not pleonastic to anyone, even in American English.

pleonasm

In other words, we're both correct. “And this is why I love English,” she said.

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