Category Archives: Language & Linguistics

Un- Versus In-

There is a rule, but it’s only of value to somebody who knows which language the root word came from, so it’s really no help at all for most of us. In general, words take un- when they are of English (Germanic) origin and in- if they come from Latin. (The forms im-, il-, and ir– are variations on in-.) Apart from that, there’s really no good guide to which one you should choose. You’re just going to have to stick to learning them by rote.

If it’s any consolation to you, the battle between in– and un– has been going on for centuries, with sometimes one form winning and sometimes the other, which suggests that the problem has been troubling English speakers for a very long time. As an example, for several centuries English had both inability and unability, but the latter disappeared in the eighteenth century for no very obvious reason. Another is familiar from the American Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights …”; these days, it’s inalienable (it should always have been, by the rule, since alien comes from the Latin alienus, of or belonging to another person or place).

A few pairs are still fighting it out, such as inarguable and unarguable. Others have distinct senses, such as unhuman and inhuman, or inartistic and unartistic. Even more confusingly, some pairs of adjectives and nouns have different prefixes: unstable has the noun instability, and uncivil has incivility. All these have to be learned, I’m afraid.

One example that seems to break the rule is inflammable, which looks as though it refers to something fireproof rather than something easily set on fire. The word comes from Latin inflammare, which uses a different in– prefix, one that intensifies the meaning of the root word (so turning flammare, to burn, into inflammare, to burst into flames). It is very confusing; in modern times the old form flammable has had to be revived so that people would not fatally mistake what inflammable meant. If only we’d stuck to the older enflame from French, and used it to make enflammable, we wouldn’t have had the problem.

One thing we can say for sure is that in– and its relatives are not living prefixes. If you want to negate a word today, you are much more likely to use un– (or perhaps non– or a-, but that’s another story.)

Original article: Un- Versus In-


English, whatever its other merits, has as many disparaging words as one would possibly desire. The example that follows is from Sir Thomas Urquhart’s translation of Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel, dated 1653, which draws heavily on vocabulary used in Scotland in his time:

The bun-sellers or cake-makers were in nothing inclinable to their request; but, which was worse, did injure them most outrageously, called them prattling gabblers, lickorous gluttons, freckled bittors, mangy rascals, shite-a-bed scoundrels, drunken roysters, sly knaves, drowsy loiterers, slapsauce fellows, slabberdegullion druggels, lubberly louts, cozening foxes, ruffian rogues, paltry customers, sycophant-varlets, drawlatch hoydens, flouting milksops, jeering companions, staring clowns, forlorn snakes, ninny lobcocks, scurvy sneaksbies, fondling fops, base loons, saucy coxcombs, idle lusks, scoffing braggarts, noddy meacocks, blockish grutnols, doddipol-joltheads, jobbernol goosecaps, foolish loggerheads, flutch calf-lollies, grouthead gnat-snappers, lob-dotterels, gaping changelings, codshead loobies, woodcock slangams, ninny-hammer flycatchers, noddypeak simpletons, turdy gut, shitten shepherds, and other suchlike defamatory epithets; saying further, that it was not for them to eat of these dainty cakes, but might very well content themselves with the coarse unranged bread, or to eat of the great brown household loaf.

You don’t hear invective like that any more, and few of us would understand it if we did. There’s enough material there for a year of Weird Words, but I’ve picked out slabberdegullion (a rare spelling of slubberdegullion), a word which nobody hearing it could possibly consider a compliment, rightly, because it means a filthy, slobbering person. There are examples of it on record from the seventeenth century down to the early twentieth but it appears now only as a deliberate archaism.

The experts disagree about where it came from. The first part is clearly English slobber, but the rest is less certain. It might be cullion, an old word for a testicle (it’s related to French couillon and Spanish cojones), which by the sixteenth century was a term of contempt for a man. It might instead conceivably be linked to the Scots dialect gullion for a quagmire or a pool of mud containing semi-liquid decayed vegetable matter, but that’s only recorded rather later.

Original article: Slubberdegullion

Bad Lyrics

If the lyrics to the music you are listening to convinces you that your best role in life is as some gaudy, selfie-snapping, fortune-chasing hooker in too much eye shadow…

You might want to change the station.

Otherwise, you shouldn’t be offended when men (or other women for that matter) treat you the way their incessantly demeaning lyrics demand you be treated.

Do not let someone else, especially some cretinous musician, even a wealthy one, condition you into accepting a lesser destiny.

A few decades ago, this was called brainwashing.

Be care what you let in.

Your eyes and your ears are gates.

Guard them.

Lest another take you captive.

Does God Need Evil?

Does God need evil? No, God does not need evil and neither do you. He did not create evil as evil, nor does He predestine evil.

God is neither capricious nor wicked. On the contrary, He has a holy and perfect nature.

What really bothers us — the fly in the ointment, the complication, the stone in our path — is that though God did not (past) and does not (present) create evil, many beings He created most certainly have. Indeed, it was the test so many failed, and continue to fail. The singular assessment of Free Will is how you use it. It is the most brilliantly simple test ever conceived. The elegance of it is mystical.

That is why so many fools throughout history (but especially in our modern age), being so horrified by the choices the Human Race has made by our collective Free Will, pretend it doesn’t even exist! They peddle the most elaborate fables to excuse it away rather than own up to it. But don’t worry, they will — after all, we’re not playing by their bad self-exculpatory rules.

As for God, He briefly allows evil to exist. Yes, briefly: compared to eternity the entire history of the planet Earth is a weekend.

God witnesses evil. He sees it. He anticipates it. And though He understands it, He is never surprised by it, nor tainted by it.

No one’s evil — not yours, not mine, not our parents’, not our children’s, not our country’s, not Satan’s, not the angels’ — catches God off guard.

God is big enough to look across the table of time and space, across every chessboard of every life ever lived, both mortal and immortal, and say: “Go ahead: your move.”

God says: “I’ve given you the ability to choose… badly, if you so insist. I’ve given you the ability to violate My will. I’ve given you the ability to ignore Me, curse Me, to not care one bit about who I designed you to be, or what I wanted you to achieve in your life. All your antipathy or indifference towards Me will not ruin My Plan. All that junk, all that soulish shrapnel, only hurts you.”

Despite the failures and rebellion of His own imagers, God moves forward. Ultimately, He turns all the errors and sins of His children to good. He’s big enough to do that, He’s loving enough to do that.

Everyone else, those orphans who were so enamored by their evil, or too dismissive of it to ever surrender it — Well, He has a solution for that too.

He’s going to win. In fact, He’s already won.

We’re just running out the clock.