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Being Picky with Words [Mar. 17th, 2005|12:11 am]
Beemer
I'm given to understand that English has a bigger vocabulary than most (all?) other languages. This means that English has high descriptive granularity; there are lots of words that differ in meaning by fine shades. I like that, because I like to be able to use precise terminology when it's available. (This is a general trait of geeks, according to The Jargon Files Appendix, which is scarily accurate.)

Anyway, there are a number of words that, in common usage (even in dictionaries), are starting to lose their precise meanings, which would be a shame. Here's the ones I can think of at the moment.

uninterested vs disinterested
"Uninterested" means that I don't care; "disinterested" means that I don't have any stake in the question and am a neutral party.

jealousy vs envy
"Envy" means that you have something that I wish I had; "jealousy" means that you've got something that I think rightly belongs to me, or that I'm intolerant of rivalry with regard to that thing.

nausea vs nauseous
"Nausea" (noun) is a feeling of queasiness; "nauseous" (adjective) is something nausea-inducing.

So the question is: are these important distinctions of meaning that it's valuable to preserve? Are there others we should work on maintaining?

Or is it just obnoxious hypercorrectness and linguistic snobbery?
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: dcseain
2005-03-17 09:30 am (UTC)
Actually, the use of the past participle as an adjective has a long history in most European languages. E.G. "It is colored." and "The area was flattened." This concept has always been very hard for my English-speaking Spanish students to grasp, as we don't really learn formal grammar in schools in most Anglophonic nations.

In some cases, as you point out, either the noun or the past particle-as-adjective is correct, or at least accepted, as in the case of "nausea" and "nauseated" in your example. In other cases, meanings differ, as in "It is color." vs. "It is colored."

"I feel sad" is the common usage, not "I feel saddened" or "I feel sadness"

I would argue that 'feel' is an unusual verb choice for 'saddened', at least without a subjunctive clause following; 'am' would generally make more sense. On the other hand, none if them is strictly speaking incorrect, just some are more common and/or less awkward than others.
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[User Picture]From: melted_snowball
2005-03-17 09:40 am (UTC)
Sure--of course, it's true that there are cases where the past participle is standard (a parallel example to the one I gave: "I feel troubled" has a different meaning from "I feel trouble."). But it's clear that the source of confusion is because the form feels somehow wrong: people expect that to feel nauseous is the correct usage, and I don't know why.

I guess that any time that such a linguistic "error" is common speech, we need to ask why it's happening, and if the "correct" meaning can be conveyed in another perfectly reasonable way. The example of "nauseous," to me, seems like one where there's not much worth worrying about, because "nauseating" is unambiguous.

[By contrast, I'll fight forever before I stop using was/were subjunctive, where the distinction does seem important to me.]
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[User Picture]From: dcseain
2005-03-17 10:08 am (UTC)
[By contrast, I'll fight forever before I stop using was/were subjunctive, where the distinction does seem important to me.]

I concur. Ah, the joys of an unregulated, living, language. :)
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[User Picture]From: dpolicar
2005-03-17 11:38 am (UTC)
Related to past participles... I recently discovered that "nake" was once a verb, meaning "to remove the clothes of", but has dropped out of usage in all forms except "naked". I'd like to revive it.
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[User Picture]From: dcseain
2005-03-17 12:19 pm (UTC)
Cool. So one can nake oneself, or another. Could one nake a peach or an orange?
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[User Picture]From: dpolicar
2005-03-17 12:43 pm (UTC)
Presumably only if it was clothed to begin with.
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[User Picture]From: melted_snowball
2005-03-17 12:55 pm (UTC)
I don't see why not...

yes, dan? >> oed nake
... To make naked, in various lit. and fig. senses; to bare, lay
bare, strip, unsheathe, etc. ...
...
1607 TOURNEUR Rev. Trag. V. i, Come, be ready: nake
your swords; thinke of your wrongs
...

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[User Picture]From: dr_tectonic
2005-03-17 01:06 pm (UTC)
I ♥ the OED.
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[User Picture]From: melted_snowball
2005-03-17 01:09 pm (UTC)
Even better, though, is to have it as a Unix command.

[We have the miniaturized, 4-page-on-a-page, version at home. But the Unix one is a lot easier to use...]
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[User Picture]From: madbodger
2005-03-18 06:42 pm (UTC)
This came up with me and amyntas the a while back when one of us misspelled "make me". Heh.
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