Wednesday, December 23, 2009

On the Unprefixable

If It Ain't Yet Broke, Don't Prefix It

L. Sprague deCamp once wrote a story called "The Hibited Man" in which he played with the idea that there is a word for 'inhibited' and 'uninhibited' but what meaning would the root word have?  Hibited?  How does exhibited fit into this continuum? 

There are other words that seem to exist only in their prefixtual form or only with certain prefixes. 

This being Christmas season, one such word is "redeem."  What does it mean to be "deemed" and is "redeemed" to be read as "deemed again"?  What of "predeemed" - perhaps to indicate the Elect of Calvinism.  Exdeem, undeem, subdeem, the possibilities are endless. 

We can postpone a matter, but can we prepone it?  Repone it?  For that matter can we pone it? 

We can presume, subsume, assume.  Can we ever actually sume?  What about postsume or supersume?  Should Stanley have said, after the identity had been verified, "Dr. Livingstone, I postsume"?

Any more examples, folks?

Echoed on


  1. Can we use this wordplay as a source of analogies? The analogy submission:subversion::permission:perversion sounds valid but can it be continued to intermission:interversion?

  2. Good question. I don't know the answer. Analogous reasoning is not in fashion these days. Try saying that A:B::C:D and you will be accused of saying that B is the same thing as D. Some years back, the College Boards dropped the analogy questions from their exams, largely because one segment - women - scored significantly below men. I suppose that was easier than teaching analogous reasoning.

  3. With redeem, the 'd' actually went with the 're' for reasons of sound (re(d)-emere). Pre-emption (and the back-formation, to pre-empt) is in the same family. There is a rare word, 'emption', which means the act of purchasing or something purchased. But no verb,'to (d)eem' or 'to empt', alas. And post-emption seems to be missing.

    Retail, entail (in the legal sense), and detail are all related, but we don't use the common root (which originally meant to cut or shape into small bits).

  4. Got another one -- we have deduce, reduce, induce, conduce, educe, adduce, abduce; but while we do use the noun form 'duct' (and the related noun form 'duke'), we never talk about ducing.


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