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Match Play is a golf/suspense novel. Dust of Autumn is a bloody one set in upstate New York. Prairie View is set in South Dakota, with a final scene atop Rattlesnake Butte. Life in the Arbor is a children's book about Rollie Rabbit and his friends (on about a fourth grade level). The Black Widow involves an elaborate extortion scheme. Doggy-Dog World is my memoir. And ES3 is a description of my method for examining English sentence structure.
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Thursday, February 21

Words to Play With

I’m a big fan of words, English words, that is. I guess that goes almost without saying since I chose to teach English all my life. And English words can be so interesting but often so peculiar. For example, “invalid” has two pronunciations and two meanings. When it’s an adjective and pronounced “in-VAL-id,” it describes something no longer valid—having no force, null or void. But when it’s a noun and pronounced “IN-val-id,” it describes a weak, sickly person, especially one who is chronically ill or disabled. What a cruel thing to call a sick or disabled person, suggesting he’s null or void.

Another set of words involves the suffix “-ful,” which derives from Anglo Saxon, and “-ous,” which derives from old French by way of Latin. The both mean “full of” whatever is the root to which it attaches ("harmonious, full of harmony"). We have a small group of words which can take either suffix and mean essentially the same thing: beautiful and beauteous, wonderful and wondrous, plentiful and plenteous, graceful and gracious, pitiful and piteous, bountiful and bounteous, joyful and joyous, rightful and righteous, doubtful and dubious. All of these pairs are nearly synonymous, but not quite. Each one has taken on slightly different hues and one almost has to consult a dictionary to see the proper usage for each. The best example might be graceful and gracious. “Graceful” suggests beauty of form, expression, or movement, especially physical movement. “Gracious” suggests a person showing kindness or courtesy, mercy or compassion. Both describe people who are full of grace, but one a physical grace, the other a mental grace.

But we also have many words ending in “–ful” that don’t have a near synonym ending in “-ous” and many ending in “-ous” that don’t have a brotherly “-ful.” Many of them should, though, with some fanciful (fancifous) or humorous (humorful) results. For example, “sinful” might have “sinuous,” the one meaning full of sin, the other meaning full of twists and turns, like the serpent that tempted Adam and Eve with that tasty, sinful (sinuous) apple. If there’s a “righteous,” why not a “wrongeous?” For every “sorrowful,” there should be a “sorrowous,” a “hateous” for every “hateful,” a “stupendeful” for every “stupendous,” a “malodorful” for every “malodorous,” a “ridicuful” for every “ridiculous.” And to end this discussion, we should have both a “bsifous” as well as a “bsiful.”

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