Why use one derivational morpheme when several will do?

A non-infinite number.

I was over on gamespot reading the first impression of Napoleon Total War when I spotted this phrase:

a non-infinite but extremely high number

Quite an interesting concatenation of prefixes there. If something is finite, it has bounds or limits; if it’s infinite, it has none; and if it’s non-infinite, then it has bounds again. Let’s see what Google pukes up on these words.

finite: 8.52 million results
non-finite: 96,200 results
infinite: 41 million results
non-infinite: 17,500 results

I was wondering whether there would be a sufficient number of instances of “non-infinite” to suggest that finite’s days might be, er, non-infinite.

I’m not surprised that the number of results for “finite” falls far short of those for “infinite” because in my mind, the word gets labelled as formal and (semi-)technical. But I wonder whether “infinite” might, in due course, end up being lexicalised in general use so that “non-infinite” becomes the more usual word for “finite”.

Nor would this be the first time that a language has opted for some prefixed word form over a bare stem. In Vulgar Latin, I believe that a lot of verbs which had no call for a prefix in Classical Latin were replaced by some prefixed form of the same verb. Or is this merely an impression I have?


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