too many latinate variations on a too-small theme

23 01 2005

(cross-posted to c&a)

abdicate, abnegate, abrogate

synonyms, for the most part, do not annoy me. we have them for several reasons: because english has acquired words with similar meanings from multiple languages, or because words initially meaning different things have been used, metaphorically or otherwise, in ways that have caused one or more of their meanings to slide together until they’re predominantly interchangeable. we tend to like having lots of words. i’m especially fond of them when i’m writing, because i notice the rhythm of phrases and sentences, i notice when consonance and assonance is working and should be emphasized, or is detracting and ought to be avoided, and having other handy words that mean close-enough-to the same thing but sound different makes more play possible. when, as in this case, though, you have a set that are almost entirely homonymous, sharing the same meter, beginning-sound, ending-sound, emphasis, and most of their spelling, the purpose of maintaining all three of them begins to elude me.

this ramble sponsored by louise rosenblatt’s use of “abnegate,” my geeky obsession with & thoroughly naïve knowledge of linguistics & etymology, dictionary.com, &, of course, the letter “a.”

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5 responses

23 01 2005
lauriegirl86

that last bit sounded WAY too much like the end of a sesame street episode.
…then again, it sparked me to remembering the end of sesame street!
cool =P

24 01 2005
froggygal

Y’know, it’s funny…I thought about this yesterday when I was telling James to park on the right side of the street. I meant “right” as in correct, but I also meant “right” as in opposed to left. I don’t really have a point here other than the fact that I’m glad that there are other word dorks out there…

24 01 2005
message_2love

I’m a word dork, too! you are not alone in this crowd;)

24 01 2005
message_2love

word-nerd investigations
ok, so I looking these up on Merriam-Webster.com to see what the differences are, and, according to this limited search, they are slight but precise. “abdicate” seems more formal, something a government leader would do – such as abdicating the throne. and “abnegate” was defined with the example of “abnegate her god,” so maybe it’s something a ‘commoner’ would do, but it seems archaic. (maybe along the same lines as the differeing connotations of “assassinate” and “murder”?) and “abrogate” seems to be a sort of suggestion or a legal term, a more sweeping thing that is done by something or someone in a more passive tense, as in “the county abrogated a law.” abdicate and abnegate seem to be specifically done by individuals and abrogate seems to be something more likely to be done by a group and/or to a group.
yeah, that was pointless, but a fun exercise nonetheless:)
Thanks to the Letter A for bringing us such an intriguing question:)

24 01 2005
pictsy

Yeah, even though synonyms may basically mean the same thing they usually have different flavors.

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