Tag Archives: English vocabulary

I agnize that it’s antique vocabulary


[07.09.14. I originally posted this as part of a larger entry on the 3rd of February 2007, but decided to extract it from that and make it a se­par­ate entry.]


We read Othello when I was at school. 6th form, if I remember rightly. I remember that no one, apart from me, had the faintest idea about the function of the grave accent in the edition we used so that the meter got mangled at times. Most of the time was spent reading the play out loud, but I don’t remember much about the meaning of the English or the themes. I think I regarded Iago as an interesting character because he was completely without scruples in his quest to destroy Othello.

There is one linguistic thing I learnt from Othello, and that is the verb “agnize” which, not surprisingly, I thought might’ve been some variant of “agonise”, but it actually means “recognise; acknowledge”. It’s only used once in the whole play in

I do agnize
A natural and prompt alacrity
I find in hardness and do undertake
These present wars against the Ottomites.
(Act I, Scene iii)

I don’t know whether it’s ever had any airtime beyond this single instance. A search of Renaissance Editions [dead link removed] yields only two examples – the one above and the following from John Florio’s translation of Montaigne’s Essays.

I hate to correct and agnize my selfe, and can never endure but grudgingly to review and repolish what once hath escaped my pen. (Book 3, Chapter IX: Of Vanitie)

Robert Southwell (1561-1595) uses it in the following stanza from New Heaven, New War.

The same you saw in heavenly seat,
Is He that now sucks Mary’s teat;
Agnize your King a mortal wight,
His borrow’d weed lets not your sight;
Come, kiss the manger where He lies;
That is your bliss above the skies.

From the Twenty Fifth Book of Harington’s translation of Orlando Furioso we have

13. Now when the youth from danger quite was freed,
And all that sought his death away were fled,
He thanks the author of this worthy deed,
And thanketh her that had him thither led
Then, when of helpe he stood in greatest need,
When otherwise he doubtlesse had bin dead,
And executed like a malefactor,
Agnizing him his Lord and benefactor.

I don’t know why I happen to remember agnize. I’ve never used it myself since it’s obsolete for a start and I’d forgotten what it meant until I checked the meaning on answers.com.

I wonder how much longer it’s going to take before someone agnizes that Shakespeare’s English needs to be translated to facilitate the comprehension of his works. The content may have meaning for us, but much of the language doesn’t.

Now, some homework. Yes, that means you lot. Find other instances of agnize from English lit. When was it last rarely used?


One of them

[20.08.14. This post was extracted from an entry I originally wrote on the 24th of September 2009. Richard Hogg was one of the professors in the English Department at Manchester when I was doing my PhD there.]

Or one of us?

Language Log has picked up on Richard Hogg’s untimely death and has a link to his obit. in The Guardian. I note

One class project involved recording voice samples and playing them to unsuspecting outsiders, who were asked to assess the speaker’s person­ality.

I played a part in that once. One of the students in Richard’s class asked me to read a fairy tale which she then played to some factory workers somewhere in Manchester, who, without being able to see me, got my details utterly wrong. I ended up being a bit older than I was at the time; a lot richer; and politically so not me that I’d have to become a totally different person to fit the listeners’ ideas about who I was.

While I’m over on Language Log, I see there’s also a story called Monks and civilians. While I would typically use the word “civilian” to mean “someone who is not in the military”, I know that it has popped up in The Sopranos to mean something like “someone who is not involved in organised crime”; and I think it also occurred in one of the Godfather films where it meant the same. I’d assume that David Chase or whoever wrote that episode probably got it from The Godfather. In other words, it’s easy to see how the sense can go from the particular (“non-military”) to the general (“not a member of our group”).

Actually, I remember the dreadful Liz Hurley (yeah, I know a lot of you will be saying, “Who?”) used the word to mean “someone who wasn’t in show biz. or modelling” years back. In other words, this isn’t a new phenomenon.

Probably the word “civilian” in the stories about Burma is being used to contrast the people who are neither monks nor in the military. From the perspective of two defined groups, these people would be civilians in both the more recent sense of the word and the standard one.

A collective of bats

Batman, Bat Collective.

[18.08.14. I extracted this post from an older one which I wrote back in 2008.]

I’ve commented ad nauseam on the fairly frequent visits I get for certain topics which were merely mentioned in passing, or not mentioned at all, but used an unfortunate combination of words which then acted like catnip. Now a new one has suddenly appeared from over the horizon. I note that I’ve had several visitors of late who, I guess, want to know the collective noun for a group of bats. They’ve all ended up on my entry A flock of bats? which I posted in June 2006, but which supplied no answer. The terms such visitors are looking for are “colony” or (apparently) “camp”.

But is that necessarily right?

The point is that I wasn’t thinking about the static colony, but rather the bats as they flit around in the air. On the other hand, although bats live together, they appear to hunt as individuals. Birds of a feather flock together, as the saying goes; but because bats aren’t birds, they don’t flock. [Such impeccable logic. –ed.] I’d guess that bats probably have to be fairly solitary fliers because of their use of echo location to find their prey. If you had a hundred bats all together sending out high frequency pulses, they’d probably never catch anything because of the confusion of sounds.

It’s not unusual to see a couple of bats, but it appears to take higher concentrations of insects to attract greater numbers of them.

Literally gloomy Sunday

No hot babes in bathtubs.

I knew the weather today would be awful for two reasons:

  1. I cleaned my bike yesterday.
  2. I went outside today.

I had hoped that we might be in for that dreadful light drizzle which is invisible and annoying, but not excessively bothersome. But instead, we had rain, which worsened while I was out. It did at least have the decency to get worse again after I got home.

There was an electricity bill stuck to my door, but it wasn’t so bad, and it can wait till tomorrow.

Grumpy Cat: humour with Chinese characteristicsI did do some more work for next week, but I also spent time linger­ing on G+ and trying my hand at adding to the excessive collection of grumpy cat memes on line. On reflection (what a good IB learner I am), satire doesn’t really work if your pot­ential audi­ence does not under­stand it because it’s not relevant to them.

While I was thinking about the word “pre­mo­ni­tion”, I wondered whether there was a related verb. The only similar words I could think of were “admonition” ~ “admonish”. The latter turns out to be the only –monish verb in English, although I wondered whether the verb *premonish might have popped up as a short-lived inkhorn term in the 15th or 16th century. But instead, “foretell” seems to have survived. Mind you, from a sociolinguistic perspective, I suppose the Anglo-Norman tyrants who ruled England in the Middle Ages were constantly admonishing their English subjects.

In Old English, the word was a-manian, a-monian (a-ma/onigan; also ge~), a Class II weak verb. There was also ge-mynegian, which was a Class II weak verb as well. It was probably etymologically related to a-manian, and words such as myne “mind” (the source of gemynegian) and the preterite-present verb, munan “remember; consider”.

Although Class II weak verbs were historically denominal, there appears to be no surviving noun  in OE corresponding to –manian.

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?

It was there a couple of days ago

What a wit.

Although some people might like to believe I know every word in English,1 here is some proof to disabuse them of such a notion. I was glancing through William Hazlitt’s essay Of persons one would wish to have seen when I espied the word pertinaciously (“stubbornly, obstinately”) for the first time in my life.

I was vexed at this superficial gloss, pertinaciously reducing everything to its own trite level…

William Ayrton, a musician, has just cast aspersions of Chaucer with references to his rugged meter and quaint orthography. The subsequent observations are those ridiculous assertions of the age that Chaucer stood at the dawn of English literature etc., when he was, in fact, nearer the end of the Middle English period. In fact, I’m surprised that anyone even thought like that in Hazlitt’s day, though it was only 1826 and Skeat wasn’t to be born for another nine years.

At the end of On the Ignorance of the Learned, Hazlitt says in the final paragraph

Women have often more of what is called good sense then men. They have fewer pretensions; are less implicated in theories; and judge of objects more from their immediate and involuntary impression on the mind, and, therefore, more truly and naturally. They cannot reason wrong; for they do not reason at all. They do not think or speak by rule; and they have in general more eloquence and wit, as well as sense, on that account. By their wit, sense and eloquence together, they generally contrive to govern their husbands. Their style, when they write to their friends (not for the booksellers), is better than that of most authors.

I’m not sure whether he’s thinks he’s possibly being complimentary or what. But even if he is being a bit of a plonker, I’m opposed to judging someone of a different time and place by the values of our own. That was then; this is now.2

1. I found when I was an undergraduate that once it’d been revealed I was doing a degree in English, it would then be decided that I was an OED on legs. Untrue. If further proof is needed, I remember looking at random pages of my copy of the Concise OED once and being a little disturbed that I was confronted with so many unfamiliar words.
2. Yes, yes. Very trite.

Mind your language, vicar

That’s hardly liturgical.

I have The Guardian on RSS, although I kind of regret not going through the front page to get a better overview of the stories. I noticed one of the RSS feeds said

Vatican cardinal calls on Catholics to stop f…

I can only imagine what that final word is. Fearing? Fainting? Figure-skating? It couldn’t be anything else, could it? No. Surely not that! I thought it might be fruit flies. What were you thinking of? No, don’t an­swer that.

[Bit later. The feedline (is that even a word?) is now “Stop funding Amnesty says Vatican”. Millions of Catholics around the world can breathe a sigh of relief that they can still do something beginning with ‘f’.

You do what to it?

El Reg talks gibberish.

From one El Reg hack we have

…Microsoft’s demos are years away from being productized. (Why Microsoft’s innovation is only Surface deep)

Productized? Ouch! I check Google. Oh dear. 90,900 other idiots lexical innovators can’t be wrong, I suppose. (Logical fallcy that, of course.) Mr Bamboo prefers “…years away from being put into production”, and since his grammar is always right, this must be the right way to say it.

Actually, the story I wanted to mention was LiveJournal says sorry for blanket sex-talk censorship, which might be the reason why LJ got blocked a few months back. I doubt whether the block is likely to be rescinded any time soon. [11.08.14. Actually, so long as you’re surfing via China Telecom, LJ is (was? used to be?) accessible. China Mobile now blocks the site.]

I note that the latest search to bring someone here was via Baidu for “Chinese girls” “girls easy”. Sigh. I need a better class of visitor.

Back again

The doing of doing – done.

I see someone from Vietnam (.vn?) was looking for “verbs from verbs”. The type which instantly spring to mind is causatives which, in many cases, is a process that makes an intransitive verb transitive. For example, in Old English there was a verb līþan “to go” which had a past sg lāþ. With a little trickery because of Verner’s Law (medial fricatives preceding a stressed syllable are voiced) and i-mutation, lāþ- is the source of lǽdan1 which gives MnE “lead”. The underlying sense in Old English is “cause to go”. Quite a few Class 1 weak verbs are causatives, although the Indo-European causative suffix *-éje- (Sanskrit -aya-) has merely left traces of itself behind.

I’d assume that ferian “to carry” (> MnE ferry) is from faran (sv6) “to go” (> MnE fare). Lecgan “to lay” is the causative form of licgan “to lie” (I believe I’ve mentioned this in a previous post).

In some languages, causatives are a formal part of the verbal conjugation. In English, we tend to use verbs like “make” or “have” in a perphrastic construction (e.g. I made them leave ~ I had them leave).

Other verb-from-verb formations can have quasi-modal senses (de­sid­er­at­ives, for instance) or frequentative-iterative senses (e.g. chat ~ chatter). As I said about causatives, these sorts of formations are often part of the verbal conjugation rather than mere derivation. English seems to have a pre­fer­ence, in the main, for analytic formations when it comes to creating such verb forms.

1. I’ve used the acute to indicate a long vowel because the Garamond font lacks ash with a macron. (11.08.14. Seven years later, this is still the case. It’s about time the range of Garamond’s Latin Extended-B block was, er, extended.)

On the bandwagon

First the Telegraph, now The Guardian.

Yup, The Guardian has now started a commentisfree blog entry (A road map for originality) about those annoying words and phrases in the English language. The specific question is “Which other current affairs cliches would you like to see curbed?”

antifrank has posted

“Progress” as a verb

which it is anyway, as well as being a noun. I’m scatching my head about the offence being caused by it.

“Impact” as a verb

I can’t honestly disagree (and it’s also become a cliché as people seem to avoid using “affect”; it’s possible that the unsurprising confusion of “effect” (n; occasionally a verb) and “affect” (vb) has pushed people into the arms of “impact”, which is grossly overused), but it’s OK in American English.

Some of the comments, as you can see, are not germane to the question, but most respondents seem to have kept their eye on the ball. We do have someone else hating “functionality” as we did in the Telegraph. Of course, it may depend on how it’s being used.

So far not that many comments. It may be worth keeping an eye on, but because of the thread’s narrow remit, it’s unlikely to attract the hordes of amateur linguists that the Telegraph pulled in.