Goodness of Wit Test #19: No Real Opposition

Inconsistency is one of the joys (and, for some, the frustrations) of the English language—irregular spelling and verb conjugation, subtleties of word order, verbs used as nouns and nouns being “verbed,” etc. One such inconsistency provides a great source of word play: false derivatives occur when a word becomes another by inappropriately applying some grammatical change. For example, since female is the feminine version of male, a false feminine could result by placing the prefix fe– in front of a word, such as line/feline or moral/femoral. Adding –er at the end of an adjective or adverb serves as a comparative, as in cold/colder. A false comparative would result from adding -er, as in should/shoulder. Here are some other examples of false derivatives:

  • False feminine: matter, mattress (analogy: waiter, waitress)
  • False plural: inter, interim (analogy: cherub, cherubim)
  • False comparative: limb, limber (analogy: cold, colder)
  • False superlative: earn, earnest; ever, Everest (analogy: cold, coldest)
  • False antecedent: sent, present (analogy: heat, reheat); sting, foresting (analogy: father, forefather)
  • False reiterative: treat, retreat (analogy: read, reread)
  • False past tense: worst, worsted (analogy: edit, edited)
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