Fun with(out) prefixes

Do you ever hear a word like “suburbs” and wonder if there are “urbs?” Or “uncanny,” and wonder if something can be “canny?” Can you “iterate,” and not just reiterate?

In most cases, the answer is yes. While the form without the prefix may not be as popular as the one with it, it is often still a valid word. In fact, it is a bit strange – uncanny, if you will – that the prefixed form is sometimes more popular.

“Urbs” is indeed a valid word to refer to the urban areas of a region. You won’t find it in a standard dictionary, and it’s rather obscure, but according to the Oxford English Dictionary, it’s legit. Same goes for canny, which is a little more common. However, in this case, its current meaning is not the opposite of “uncanny.” “Canny” means shrewd, whereas “uncanny” means strange and unfamiliar. As is the case with so many words, meanings change over the years, and “canny” used to mean safe or fortunate, among other things.

And “iterate” is one of those strange words that means the exact same* thing as its prefixed cousin, “reiterate:” to reassert something. It’s not unlike “regardless” and “irregardless.” No difference.  It’s all a matter of preference and desired degree of emphasis.

So, to reiterate (sorry, “iterate” just doesn’t sound right), the next time you encounter a prefixed word, drop the prefix and see if you end up with a word you’re familiar with. If you don’t, look it up to see if it’s valid – and be sure to share your findings here!

*Oops . . . I made a boo-boo. This is an ungradable word, meaning it shouldn’t be modified. Things are either the same, or they’re not –  they can’t be the “exact same.”  We’ll talk about this next time! 

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Fun with(out) prefixes

  1. What about postfixes? If you can be ruthless can you also be ruth or ruthful? I was wondering this a while back and looked to the dictionary to find out. I’ll leave the joy of discovery to you. And yes, my last name is Canny and no that isn’t uncanny. 🙂

    • . . . and my first name is “Tim.” I see why this blog entry must have come up in a search engine for you! I like your comment on suffixes, and was especially surprised to find that “ruth” is indeed a word, meaning “a feeling of sympathy and sorrow for the misfortunes of others” (vocabulary.com). I don’t recall ever, in my life, encountering this word. I’m definitely going to work it into my vocabulary! Thanks for the tip!

  2. Ann McGrath

    Very interesting. You should consider becoming an english teacher!

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