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a- in English and alpha privativum

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a- in English and alpha privativum

Postby Emma_85 » Fri Jul 02, 2004 3:21 pm

Hi, I was just wondering about the a- in the English lanuage, which seems to be used like the Greek alpha privativum. Of course theism and atheism are just the Greek words, but 'atypical', as the opposite of typical, for example seems to be a newer 'invention'. Did this a- come from the Greek alpha privativum?
I'm just a bit confused because 'a-' has 13 meanings in my English etymological dictionary, but the meaning the alpha privativum has isn't there :?.
Maybe I'm just a bit confused about a- in general. I think you can only use it for certain words, but I'm not sure...
any thoughts?
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Postby benissimus » Fri Jul 02, 2004 9:18 pm

I hate when people add the prefix "a-" before words of LATIN origin to negate the word. Why did they have to invent "amoral" when "immoral" was just fine?! Anyways, this dictionary has it, second entry down:
http://dictionary.reference.com/search?r=67&q=a
flebile nescio quid queritur lyra, flebile lingua murmurat exanimis, respondent flebile ripae
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Postby Geoff » Fri Jul 02, 2004 9:22 pm

I read quite a few religious writings and typically we use amoral for a person bereft of morals or an action without moral motivation. Whereas we use immoral for a person who is against some standard of morality or defining an action in relation to a standard.

I've never really thought about this in English. That's the curse of one's own language is you take so much for granted. I believe that someone here was discussing the value of learning greek in another language. I could definitely see how that would be profitable.

Perhaps I'll look that "a" up sometime soon.
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Postby Bert » Fri Jul 02, 2004 9:31 pm

My dictionary says: not, without.
L from Gr, used chiefly with words of L or Gr origin.

Immoral means -contrary to morals-. Amoral means -neither moral nor immoral-.
A lot of words were formed in such a way that the sum of the parts does not equal the whole.
Priceless is almost opposite of valueless.
Yet, price and value are almost synonymous.
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Postby klewlis » Fri Jul 02, 2004 9:53 pm

as for "atypical", isn't "typical" descended from the greek tupos? in that case, the a- would be perfectly normal. :)
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Re: a- in English and alpha privativum

Postby Democritus » Sat Jul 03, 2004 1:39 am

Emma_85 wrote:Did this a- come from the Greek alpha privativum?


Yes, the English prefix does come from Greek alpha privative.

Some English words with alpha privative are obviously borrowings directly from Greek, but some are new coinages in English. The Oxford Dictionary of New Words lists aliterate ("can read, but prefers not to" ), which is distinct from illiterate ("can't read").

Here's something funny: I was looking up the word "amoral" in an online etymological dictionary, and the site included this nice dynamically-generated text ad in the result:

Buy Amoral Products
We link to merchants which offer Amoral products for sale.
http://bounce.deal-market.com


Maybe I should log in there and stock up. :)
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Postby Democritus » Sat Jul 03, 2004 2:01 am

benissimus wrote:I hate when people add the prefix "a-" before words of LATIN origin to negate the word. Why did they have to invent "amoral" when "immoral" was just fine?!


I like hybrid words, including Greek-Latin hybrids and other oddball coinages. :) Television is a hybrid word, although it's so common that one doesn't notice it as strange. Thermonuclear is a hybrid, too.
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Postby Emma_85 » Sat Jul 03, 2004 9:45 am

Thanks all! :D

The Oxford Dictionary of New Words lists aliterate ("can read, but prefers not to" ), which is distinct from illiterate ("can't read").


I didn't even know the word aliterate existed... hehehe but I know many who fit that category :wink: .

as for "atypical", isn't "typical" descended from the greek tupos? in that case, the a- would be perfectly normal. :)


Yes, I think it's from tupos, too. But there's no entry for atupos in my Greek dictionary :P , whereas there is one atheos for example. I suppose the a- is perfectly normal here though, cause it's of Greek origin :-).

My dictionary says: not, without.
L from Gr, used chiefly with words of L or Gr origin.


That's what i was wondering about most... if you could only use it with Greek or with Latin words too.
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Postby Thucydides » Sat Jul 03, 2004 4:45 pm

Having a- and i- (and others) actually enriches the language because you can have different kinds of negativity e.g. immoral / amoral
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Postby Democritus » Mon Jul 05, 2004 1:24 am

Emma_85 wrote:Yes, I think it's from tupos, too. But there's no entry for atupos in my Greek dictionary :P , whereas there is one atheos for example. I suppose the a- is perfectly normal here though, cause it's of Greek origin :-).


German has the word atypisch. It makes me wonder... I'm not an expert (nor do I have an etymological dictionary handy) but I'm wondering if the German word atypisch comes from the English word atypical.

Just a speculation -- I have no clue if this is true.

I know that German has atypisch and Atheismus, but can this prefix a- be used generally in German to create new German words? German also has asexuell, but I'm wondering if this word is also an import from English. Or is the English word an import from German, or maybe French?
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Postby Emma_85 » Mon Jul 05, 2004 5:22 pm

I'll check where atypisch comes from, tomorrow, or when ever I next have a free period at school.
My guess is that atypical and atypisch both entered the languages through Latin (from Greek), at a time when all the monks and intellectuals in Europe were speaking Latin.
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Postby Emma_85 » Tue Jul 06, 2004 12:14 pm

I'm at school right now, but atypisch is not in Duden's 'Herkunftswörterbuch'. Typisch is said came from lat. in the 18th century.
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