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Nov 1, 2010
This week's theme
Back-formations

This week's words
comminate
aesthete
dentulous
buttle
emote

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A.Word.A.Day
with Anu Garg

A backronym is a word or phrase re-interpreted as an acronym or an initialism. With a little ingenuity, any word can be turned into an acronym (or an initialism). SOS didn't originate as an acronym. It was a distress signal for the Morse code (...---...) devised to be easily recognizable by a radio operator listening to the chatter of multiple streams of signals. It was only a coincidence that this sequence spelled SOS in Morse Code. Later, people came up with explanations for this signal such as Save Our Souls and Save Our Ship (for another example of an ex post facto coinage, see Apgar score).

Just as a backronym comes later, a back-formation is a word that is coined after an existing word, though it appears the existing word was coined later. The verb to back-form itself is a back-formation. In this week's A.Word.A.Day we'll look at five back-formations.

comminate

PRONUNCIATION:
(KOM-uh-nayt)

MEANING:
verb tr.: To threaten with divine punishment; to curse.

ETYMOLOGY:
Back-formation from commination, from com- (intensive prefix) + minari (to threaten). Ultimately from the Indo-European root men- (project), which is also the source of minatory, menace, mountain, eminent, promenade, demean, amenable, and mouth. Earliest recorded use: 1611.

USAGE:
"I think he deserves comminating, don't you? Nancy said people like that ought to be put down, didn't you, Nancy?"
Mollie Hardwick; Malice Domestic; Fawcett; 1992.

See more usage examples of comminate in Vocabulary.com's dictionary.

A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:
How strange that nature does not knock, and yet does not intrude! -Emily Dickinson, poet (1830-1886)

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