Adding Syllables to Words Does Not Add Meaning

Longer (Wronger) Words

Created Words Without Meaning

People use several “enhanced” words to make themselves sound more intellectual. However, the reverse, sadly, is more likely. One of the most common is preventative (which, by the way, the Microsoft Word® spell checker allows). The correct word is preventive. However, not only does one hear this word spoken, but it sometimes appears in printed advertisements and articles. To show how silly this word is, imagine the word inventive suddenly becoming inventative, or incentive becoming incentative. This kind of phony fluffing of words can make one insensitative to good language practices.

Another word that gets badly corrupted is mischievous, which is often spoken as mis chee’ vee us to rhyme with devious. However, there’s no i before the ous, so this is just plain wrong. It’s mis’ chiv us.

The word irregardless is actually a double negative. Regardless means without regard; ir-regardless would mean without without regard. Again, the extra syllable does not add meaning; it negates it.

Another gem is former Governor Sarah Palin’s word refudiate — mixing up repudiate with refute — and then defending herself by saying that the English Language is ever evolving and can be added to and edited easily. But not through ignorance!

Extra Syllables Don’t Add Meaning

Another example of adding syllables to sound more intelligent is the word competence, which gets turned into competency. This converts a perfectly useful two-syllable word into three syllables. Why? The most common meaning of competence is having an ability to perform, the emphasis being, qualitatively, on general ability. Competency, on the other hand, means much the same, but is usually restricted to the fields of education and training, where the plural is used to describe important skills (eg, core competencies) that students need to learn. The results of the education or training are often determined by testing for the specific knowledge acquired.

This tendency gets carried into words such as dependency (instead of simply dependence) and independency (instead of independence). These are all, basically, synonyms, and the addition of the extra syllable usually adds nothing to the meaning of the thought.

A common word that suffers from this problem is the noun applicator. This would imply that there’s an underlying verb applicate, meaning apply (as in calculate / calculator, educate / educator and the like. However, while there was once such a verb, it’s now obsolete. So, even though we seem to be stuck with the four-syllable word applicator, it would be much simpler to just use the perfectly acceptable two-syllable word applier.

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