Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Words Uncoupled

English has a bunch of rarely-used words.  For instance, a recent OED word of the Day was nocent.
"nocent, n. and adj.
[‘A guilty person, a criminal. Obs.’]
Pronunciation: Brit. /ˈnəʊs(ə)nt/,  U.S. /ˈnoʊs(ə)nt/
Forms:  lME– nocent,   15 nocente
Etymology: <  Middle French nocent, adjective (1404) and noun (1400–10) or its etymon classical Latin nocent-, nocēns injurious, guilty, guilty person, uses as adjective and noun of present participle of nocēre to hurt, injure (see necro- comb. form). Compare Italian †nocente, adjective (a1347). Compare earlier innocent adj. and n."

Nocent and innocent used to be a couple, but nocent faded from memory and disappeared from smaller dictionaries.  Why?  It seems like a handy word.

I've dealt with the vincible/ invincible and the peccable/ impeccable  pairs in earlier posts. 

Perhaps the majority of English speakers dislike paired opposites because they suggest that both are necessary--you know, that yin/yang stuff

Another slightly different example is Seamster | Sempster

" a. One who sews; one whose occupation is sewing, esp. the making and mending of garments; a tailor, seamstress. Originally a designation of a woman, but in Old English already applicable to a man. Now only applied to one of the male sex, seamstress being commonly used for a female sewer."

Another example suggested by Chuck is the adjective turpid:

"rare.  Base, filthy, worthless.
1623   H. Cockeram Eng. Dict.,   Turpid, filthy.
1866   J. B. Rose tr. Virgil Georgics ii. 60   But fruit degenerates,—its flavour lost, The turpid grapes are left to birds or frost.
1867   J. B. Rose tr. Virgil Æneid 44   Smitten with turpid fear."
The only form we seem to use today is turpitude and then only in the phrase moral turpitude.  Yet we have available  turpid, turpidly, and turpitudinous.  Why do we throw out perfectly good words?


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