or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Spice Up Your Life

The huge majority of words ending in "-ly" in English are adverbs. When a word isn't, people often don't know what to do with it.

A rather delicious word that is unfortunately falling out of use is "contumely". It looks like an adverb, doesn't it? But it's a noun, from the Latin "contumelia" (through the French "contumelie"), related to a word meaning "insolent"; it means, logically enough, "insolence, arrogance, rude disdain". The adverbial form is the even more wonderful "contumeliously".

What made me think of this was an extremely odd and, in fact, wildly incorrect usage in The New Republic:

"Santorum's ginger administrations to his readers also include omitting endnotes altogether."

"Ginger"? The word has a few meanings, but not one of them is an adjective. The word the writer was looking for is "gingerly", which looks for all the word like an adverb (and it sometimes is), but is also an adjective meaning "cautious". It leads to some odd-looking constructions: "The cat walked gingerly across the mantelpiece" seems (and is) correct, while "The puppy made a gingerly advance on the cat" looks wrong (but isn't). Knowing this, some people want to add the standard adverbial ending to the adjective, and come up with either "gingerlily" (which ought to be a flower) or "gingerlyly" (which looks Middle English and strange). They're both, of course, wrong.

A quick Googling of "gingerlyly" reveals that Languagehat, of course, got there before I did.

By the way--you didn't think I'd leave out this part, did you?--"ginger" the spice is unrelated to the "ginger" in "gingerly". "Ginger" as in "gingerbread" is from the Latin; the botanical name for the root is "zingiber officinale". (You can find a stunningly detailed exploration of the various names for ginger here.) The "ginger-" in "gingerly", however, is thought to be related to the "gent-" in "gentle" and "genteel".


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