Cephalogenic

or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

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Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Not Their Strong Suit

On the bus home from work yesterday, I caught the merest glimpse of one of those Coroplast signs that always seem to be attached to telephone poles everywhere. Since I have an interesting brain anomaly that latches onto typographical errors, the only word that I remember from the sign, because it stood out as if it were neon, was "AFFORTABLE".

Spelling is not a game for amateurs, I tell you.

Where does "afford" come from, anyway? It seems pretty obvious that it must be compounded out of "ford" plus a prefix, but...what?

Not "ford", as it turns out, but "forth", duly transformed. The Indo-European root is "per-", which gave birth in Greek and Latin to a clutch of words meaning "through" or "forward". "Forth" is one of them, and "afford" means "to set forth"--to be able to set forth money to pay for something, which is what it is to be able to afford something. "Afford" later came to have a number of other meanings by metaphor: "to furnish" or "to bestow upon", for example ("it afforded him no small delight"), and also "to be able to spare", in some way other than monetarily ("she can't afford the time").

Did the person who wrote the sign really think it was spelled "affortable"? Does anyone actually pronounce it that way?

"Fort", while we're at it, it an abbreviation of "fortress" or "fortification", both of which stem from Latin "fortis", "strong". I trust I don't need to elaborate on that point. It certainly has no place in an innocent word like "affordable".

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