or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Collect Call

An anonymous reader writes:

Last week, I saw in a department store a display of a commemorative plate marking Obama's election to the presidency. It is marked as a "Collectable Plate". Maybe it's because I'm from the states, but the -able ending just seems...wrong. I know that it is the British standard, and is a recognized variant of the US-preferred -ible, but it still makes me want to grab a label maker and cover that A with an I.

I'm on your side, but unfortunately, popular usage isn't.

Let's start with the general rule, which is that if you subtract the suffix and the word is still a word, then the correct suffix is "-able", which is also a word; otherwise, the suffix is "-ible". Palpable, commendable, contestable: frangible, risible, possible.(You may also need to remove prefixes: "insuperable", for instance.)

This is not always true. "Contemptible" defies the rule, as does "inevitable". But if you're rolling the dice instead of consulting a dictionary or trusting the spellchecker, then the rule is a good one.

Now. "Collectable" has also been spelled "collectible" almost since its appearance in English (over 350 years ago), so there's no point in fighting about which word has seniority. It's true that in this instance the "-able" ending is more usual in British English, and "-ible" in American, but that doesn't make either more valid than the other. The fact is that you can spell the word either way and be equally correct. That doesn't invalidate your feeling that "collectable" is wrong in its context, of course: if you've grown up more used to a particular usage, then the other is likely to feel wrong.

My own preference, which is completely insupportable (but I don't care), is to use "collectible" in the limited, modern sense of "gewgaws mass-produced to be sold to undiscerning people at inflated prices" (or as its adjectival form, in such phrases as "collectible dolls"), and "collectable" for other uses, such as bills due.


Post a Comment

<< Home