Circumlocutions

rogersgeorge on December 21st, 2016

Yes, circumlocution is an actual word. It means “a phrase when you can’t think of (or don’t want to use) a word that means the same thing.” You use a circumlocution when you say “beat around the bush” instead of “evasive.”

“Ultimate” normally means “cannot be exceeded,” but it also means “last,” and herein lies the following joke in Pros and Cons:

Pros & Cons - 12/16/2016

“Penultimate” means “next to last.” Did you know there’s a word for “the one before next to last”? It’s “antepenultimate.”

You probably won’t need to use “antepenultimate” often, but there you have it if you ever want to avoid the circumlocution.

PS: The rules for accenting verbs in Classical Greek go only as far as antepenultimate, so I had forgotten about this word, a good example of prefixes gone wild, preantepenultimate (fourth from the last), which I was reminded of recently in A word a Day.

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What is proof?

rogersgeorge on December 12th, 2011

I might have posted about this mistake before, but here’s a nice comic to remind you about it. People misinterpret “the exception proves the rule”  almost  as often as they get “beg the question” wrong ( I’ve written about that one, too.). Recently I discovered a comic that’s been around at least since 2007 (so I have some catching up to do in my copious spare time), and a recent strip mentions this expression.

Kieran Meehan writes a clever strip about some professional people and crooks called Pros and Cons. Here’s the strip:

I haven't figured out all the characters, but the gal on the right runs a diner and she's the sister of one of the other characters

Most people (in my experience, anyway) think that the exception proving a rule means that when something breaks a rule, it illustrates the existence of the rule because you notice the exception to it. BRAAP! Completely wrong.

“Prove” is an old word for “test.” There’s the famous reference to tithing in the Old Testament book of Malachi that goes “Prove me now herewith and bring all the tithes into the storehouse…” We still use the word prove in a testing sense in certain contexts, such as when someone says something like “Well, let’s see if the plane proves airworthy.”

What this expression means is that to really find out is a rule is for real, you have to break (the exception) it (the rule) and see what happens. If something bad happens because you broke the rule, yup, it’s a rule, all right. If nothing happens, it wasn’t relly a rule in the first place.

Children do this to their parents all the time. Don’t make a rule unless you’re willing to enforce it. Does this comic get the expression right or wrong? I’m not sure—I haven’t figured it out yet, but it’s funny.