or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Sunday, July 31, 2005


Yesterday I wrote tangentially about "neologic/neological", and that reminded me of something I've always found fascinating: In English, if there's an adjective ending in "-ical", there's almost certainly a matching and perfectly synonymous adjective simply ending in "-ic", and vice versa.

We've lost some of them along the way, of course: "tragical" has fallen by the wayside, having a rather Victorian flavour, with "tragic" almost completely supplanting it. Others, typically, have changed from one part of speech into another. "Magic" isn't commonly used as an adjective any more because "magical" has more or less taken over the role, leaving "magic" as a noun (or sometimes a verb, though that's usually spelled "magick").

But still. If you can think of an adjective that ends in "-ic", you can tack an "-al" onto it and it will still be a word, even if that word is now obsolete or archaic, and likewise you can extract the "-al" from an "-ical" adjective and that will still be (or have been) a word. There are a few rare exceptions: there doesn't seem to ever have been a "surgic" in English (more's the pity). But the rule virtually always holds. "Rhythmic/rhythmical", "terrific/terrifical", "spheric/spherical", "quixotic/quixotical", "carbonic/carbonical", and on and on. No wonder English is said to have the largest vocabulary of any language on Earth.


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