or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Monday, July 17, 2006

Full Of It

Today, Salon.com's Video Dog points to this BBC news story about George Bush, in an unguarded moment, telling Tony Blair about how to handle those dreadful ragheads in the Middle East. There's nothing quite like hearing a British newscaster rat-a-tat out the words "stop doing this shit" as if he'd rather be saying or doing almost anything else.

He (the newscaster: it's doubtful Bush would recognize, let alone know how to pronounce, the word in question) also pronounced "expletive" as "ek-SPLEE-tive", which was counter to the pronunciation I'd heard all my life: "EX-pluh-tive". A quick visit to the OED and Answers.com confirmed my suspicions: the first pronunciation is preferred in the UK (though the second is also attested to), while the second is the one most used in North America--it's the only one Answers.com deigns to mention.

What is an expletive, anyway? Originally, it was a word used to fill out a sentence, a bit of linguistic padding such as "it's" in "it's snowing". There isn't anything snowing--the snow is falling all by itself-- but an English sentence generally has to have a subject and a verb, so we make up a subject: "it". This meaning makes perfect sense when you learn it's the literal translation of the Latin source, "ex-", "out", plus "plere", "to fill". ("Plere" is the source of such English words as "complete"; its Greek cousin, "plethein", gives us "plethora".)

Nowadays, to most people, "expletive" has one meaning only: a cuss word.


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