or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Thursday, July 05, 2007


If you like movie trailers, which I do, you probably check out Apple's Movie Trailers page on a regular basis. Just now I was watching the trailer for a movie called "Joshua" (which looks pretty good) when smack in the middle of it was this title card:

"a brilliant house-of-horror tale with Hitchcockean flare"

Oh, golly.

Let's get "flare" out of the way. It's supposed to be "flair". We can blame the folks at Fox Searchlight and not Mr. Byrge for this, though, because he wrote the correct word. Well, someone at The Hollywood Reporter did, anyway, but whoever was doing up the title card for the trailer didn't pay attention or didn't know the difference between the two words.

"Hitchcockean", on the other hand, we can put squarely at the feet of Mr. Byrge (or whoever wrote that sub-head; it's not actually part of the story, which leads me to think that someone between the author and publication wrote it). Most of the time in English, the adjectival ending for proper nouns ending in a consonant is going to be "-ian": "Dickensian", for instance, or "Churchillian".

It isn't a hard-and-fast rule, mind you. If the name ends in a vowel sound but not a vowel, we sometimes reconstruct the name a "-v-", as in "Shavian" from Shaw, or "Wavian" from Waugh (but not always, as in "Hemingwayesque".). If the name does end in a vowel, we have a couple of options, such as the above-noted "-esque", as in "Kafkaesque", or the interpolation of a consonant, as in the "-nian" of "Draconian". And if it ends in an "-n", we sometimes add "-ic", as in "Napoleonic", but not always, as in "Smithsonian". It depends on the stress pattern and the flow of the word, mostly: over time, whatever sounded best was the one that was preferred and considered correct.

The adjectival suffix "-ean", in comparison to "-ian", is of much more limited use. It's almost always used with nouns that already end in "-ea", such as "centaurea" or "archaea": there are a few minor exceptions such as "epicurean" or "empyrean". And if a proper noun ends in "-e", then it does take "-ean", as in "Shakespearean" or "Joycean". But "-ean" is an extremely rare suffix in English, and if you choose to attach it to a word in favour of "-ian", you're probably going to be wrong, as "Hitchcockean" is. You'd think someone might have taken ten seconds to Google it and see which one has more hits. You'd think that, but you'd be, unfortunately, wrong.

At least they got the hyphens right.


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