Saturday, September 18, 2010

Those naughty not-ty prefixes

Don't you hate it when there's a word that seems to start with a negation prefix, but doesn't? It leads to all sorts of confusions! Take the following, for example:

(in case you're wondering, that's basically
the Grim Reaper in the last panel, and the
"Nazi Science" punchline is basically a
reference to this strip.)

And there's the brother prefix of "in-": "im-"; seen in words such as "impossible" and "imperfect" – but what about words like "impact"? If "impact" means getting hit really hard, would that mean a pact is getting hit softly? Why of course not! It's a written agreement, a truce! The words have nothing to do with one another; "impact" comes from the latin impingere (basically meaning "impregnate") and "pact" comes from pacisi (basically "peace").

And let's not forget the prefix "un-", from words such as "undo" and "untested". Maybe we can make some sense of it. After all, if something is "under", it's not "dere", it's beneath it.

But the fact is, you can compound these misleading negatory prefixes! Ever heard that an island is "uninhabited"? A habitat is a place where someone (or something) lives. Therefore, an island that's "inhabited" should be deserted, and therefore an island that's "uninhabited" should be full of people, right? Wrong! "inhabited" is the term that describes that the island is actually populated; "uninhabited" means it's deserted. It's like someone messed the language up on purpose!

And by the way, the person responsible for this post is whoever up at my local TV station decided to play The Heartbreak Kid. It was inspired solely by the following dialogue:
"One day, our children will uninhabit the earth, and I intend to make sure there's an ocean for them!"
"Wha–? Uninhabit? That doesn't even exist!"
"Oh, yeah? According to who?"
"Uh, the dictionary?"
God, that movie was so not worth my time...


  1. The English language is an evil ploy to confuse people. As a kid I remember traveling behind big tanker trucks labeled Inflammable and thinking how safe we were.

  2. Found a new one yesterday:
    "He gave a most impassionate speech. I'm so moved."
    Taking "im" as a negatory prefix, we have that it was a very boring monologue, making the quote sarcastic. However, impassionate actually means "full of passion"!