Word Division, or How to Carve

Word Division, and How to Carve – Terence Kuch (www.terencekuch.net)

Meat should be cut at the joint, Plato said, not merely hacked apart any old place. Likewise, words, if they must be divided, should be cut at their own joints. The pieces (before and after line-breaks) should bear as much meaning as possible, as an aid to the reader.

In violation of this principle, the Washington Post once divided “homerun” as ho/merun. Exactly what’s wrong here? There is a home plate, and runners run there. But baseball does not have a “ho”-anything, nor does anyone “merun.” (In a way, the Post brought this problem on themselves by ramming “home” and “run” together, instead of leaving them as two separate words, but that’s a different topic.)

The Post also insists on dividing “England” as En/gland, as if England were not a land, but some kind of gland, ductless perhaps.

Recently in the Post we have seen “iP/ad” for “iPad,” and “assis/tant” for “assistant” (“assist” is the root form here, and “-ant” is a suffix for “one who does [something].” What “assis” or “tant” mean, at least in English, is nothing.

The New Yorker, which these days has the most astute editing of any American magazine, published a long article about psychopaths, with these word divisions:

psycho/path

psycho/pathology

psychop/athy

The first two are fine: “psych” (psyche) = mind or soul, and “path”, referring to the passions (stuff that happens to us), is a Greek root taken over into Latin. (The “o” could fall on either side of the word division.)

But what is a “psychop”? And what is “athy”? Nothing. And Nothing.

END

 

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