Saturday, May 27, 2006

Verbs with unusual suffices

In mathematics, when we make an arbitrary linear algebraic group into a semisimple one, or a presheaf into a sheaf, we call it semisimplification, or sheafification. I am ashamed to say I got very worked up about this -- not ashamed, that is, because I got worked up, but rather ashamed because I was completely in the wrong. When thinking about the words 'semisimplification' and 'sheafification', my thoughts turned to gerunds like 'putrefaction' -- which is formed from the verb 'putrefy' -- and I wondered indignantly how we could be so ignorant as to say 'semisimplification', for example, instead of 'semisimplifaction'. It wasn't until I was pouring out my outrage to another mathematician friend of mine (this is one of the benefits of being close to me, that one is first to hear such breaking news as my unhappiness with grammatical minutiƦ) that I realised that it was misplaced. The gerund 'semisimplification' is formed from the noun 'semisimplify', not 'semisimplefy' -- and similarly for 'sheafification'. Thus I withdraw this (anyway ridiculous) objection. For those who think I have thereby gone soft, however, let it be known that I shall never accept the term 'moduli space', which, as far as I am concerned, can be used only by those who also use 'vectors space'. (I am told by Italian and Russian friends that their languages appropriately use adjectives, not nouns, to modify their equivalent of the word 'space' -- in French, a vector space is an 'espace vectoriel' -- which neatly avoids the question of whether the modifying noun should be singular or plural.)

Now that I've so artfully engaged your attention, here's the point to which I'm getting. It sure seems, to me anyway, on casual thought that -ify is a more common verb suffix than -efy; but, after a little thought, I can come up with three common English verbs ending in -efy (one of which is 'putrefy' above), whereas I can only come up with two common English verbs ending in -ify (obviously, not counting 'semisimplify' and 'sheafify' -- which are scarcely common). I am curious if you, my manifold readers, can come up with any more. To make the challenge extra-specially exciting, I will withhold four of the five examples I've got until the deafening clamour of protest forces me to reveal them.

P.S. In other (grammatical) news:

  • The phrase "Methinks the lady doth protest too much" is, though we are all I think enamoured of that form, no different in meaning from "Methinks the lady does protest too much" (or, come to that, from "I think she protests too much", but that fits in less well with the point I'm trying to make). Thus, however sexy the use of slight archaisms seems to you, please, Alanis Morissette, don't title your song "Doth I protest too much?".
  • On the excellent comic Questionable Content, one of the characters complained recently that she had been "hoisted by [her] own petard". Of course I found this jarring, but I couldn't figure out why I should have a problem with 'hoisted' in this context and not in any other. Thanks to the insuppressible magic of the OED, I now know that 'hoist' in this context is a participial adjective 1, not a verb, formed from the verb 'hoise', which is an archaic form of -- you guessed it -- the modern verb 'hoist'. The same construction gives us 'learnt' and 'smelt' (and, Wikipedia reminds me, 'burnt'). (Shakespeare preferred the preposition 'with' to 'by', but either form seems to make sense.) A 'petard', by the way, which I had always vaguely pictured as the seat of one's pants (making the process described in Hamlet essentially a fancy version of a wedgie), is rather a small bomb.

UPDATE 11 October 2006. (My apologies to any viewer who clicked trustingly on the superscript 1 above, expecting it to link to a footnote. By way of compensation, the word UPDATE above, though no superscript 1, functions as would such a digit, by linking back to the point in the original article from which you have so recently come.) A friend of mine -- a friend whose first language is not English, worse yet -- pointed out to me that a participle (which is how I first described the word 'hoist') is a verb, thus making the original rant meaningless. The term for which I was searching (and with which I have now replaced the original) is, as you have already seen, 'participial adjective'.


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