Mother-tongue "traps"

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  • Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    ...Caused by the different spelling in my mother tongue. A translinguistic mother-tongue trap. :D ;)
     

    gaer

    Senior Member
    US-English
    For "kilometer"? (Or kilometre to me!:D). Prescriptively stress on the 3rd syllable, secondary stress on the first.
    I'm not a prescriptivist, but I've always said "kilo MEE ter". I thought I was wrong. It just seemed logical to me:

    meter (metre)
    millimeter (millimetre)
    centimeter
    decimeter
    kilometer

    Why would anyone logically pronounce "kilometer" differently? I've never understood that!

    Gaer
     

    LouisaB

    Senior Member
    English, UK
    I'm not a prescriptivist, but I've always said "kilo MEE ter". I thought I was wrong. It just seemed logical to me:

    meter (metre)
    millimeter (millimetre)
    centimeter
    decimeter
    kilometer

    Why would anyone logically pronounce "kilometer" differently? I've never understood that!

    Gaer
    I still don't understand it, Gaer. We've just had a discussion on words like this in timpeac's thread on 'hydrogenised'.

    On the other hand, how would you pronounce 'pedometer'? The same rules of logic should make it 'pedo-MEE-ter', but I don't think I've ever heard anything other than 'pe-DOM-eter'. I wish I had....

    Louisa
     

    karuna

    Senior Member
    Latvian, Latvia
    In Latvian I used to say ņemju instead of the correct form ņemu (1st person present of the verb ņemt – to take). Maybe this is dialectal however it is wrongly modeled by another verb conjugation, i.e., stumt – stumju(to push).

    And probably there are no native Latvian speaker who hadn't used the word piedzērušais (a drunk person) at least once in their life. The problem is that there is no such word and it sounds silly and childish even to those who pronounce it. The adjective is piedzēries (drunk). The language logic doesn't allow to form a noun from it but the formal logic urges, why not. One can even observe that conflict the speaker struggles with until he finds the correct word – iereibušais.
     

    gaer

    Senior Member
    US-English
    I still don't understand it, Gaer. We've just had a discussion on words like this in timpeac's thread on 'hydrogenised'.

    On the other hand, how would you pronounce 'pedometer'? The same rules of logic should make it 'pedo-MEE-ter', but I don't think I've ever heard anything other than 'pe-DOM-eter'. I wish I had....

    Louisa
    Lousia, I've never in my life used the word "pedometer", and in fact I'm not quite sure what it is. I would have to look it up.

    Purely by pattern, I would assume it would rhyme with "speedometer", but such words are not part of the metric system and don't indicate lengths. (Of course, trying to be logical about English never gets us very far, does it?) ;)

    Gaer
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    Why would anyone logically pronounce "kilometer" differently? I've never understood that!

    Gaer
    Oh I didn't mean to suggest that there would be any logic to it (although there often is in language change, usually moving towards what's "easier" in some way (sound change has a lot of examples of that)).

    My understanding is that, based on the etymology, the pronunciation should be - and often is, given that a sizeable number of people do pronounce it that way, yourself included - "kilometer".

    For reasons unknown, or as yet unascertained in this thread, the pronunciation for many - myself included - became "kilometer".

    I think it was probably this pronunciation that influenced "speedometer" ("speedometer" surely sounding ridiculous to even the most hardened "kilometer" fans?) and the same for "pedometer".

    I guess the "mother-tongue "trap"" in all this is that there is no way to tell from the spelling of an English word which syllable should be stressed - and even quite clear etymologies contained in the spelling are not enough to prevent stress shifting sometimes.
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    I believe ki-LO-me-ter follows the Greek accentuation pattern.
    Oh right - thanks for that. Then it turns out that the "kilometer" people are the newbies in pronunciation then. So this is an example of apparently reasonable pronunciation based on etymology taking over from traditional pronunciation. Same trap as above - although on reflection I don't think I was right to say it was to do with spelling. I think that language change is rarely because of spelling (although I know it is sometimes). I suppose the trap is that in English there is nothing in a given string of phonemes that tell us where the stress will necessarily fall.
     
    Well, to shed a little light on why someone would pronounce kilometer in two different ways, I took a look at the entry in my big and beautiful Webster's Universal Unabridged.

    It states (I'll paraphrase a bit to avoid any nasty copyright issues) "The usual pronunciation for units of measurement beginning with kilo-... and for measurements ending in -meter, puts primary stress on the first syllable and secondary stress on the third. 'It would seem logic'* (in the text) that kilometer follow this pattern, and this pronunciation has been around since the early 1800's.
    However a second pronunciation exists, with only one stressed syllable, the second. This was first recorded in America before 1830, and its popularity has been increasing since then, both in AE and BE. It is reinforced by the pronunciation of words for instruments (barometer, thermometer, etc.). Both pronunciations are used by educated speakers and members of the scientific community.

    So, the question is, why would it be illogical or incorrect to use this pronunciation?

    As a side note, the same dictionary offers two phonetic versions of "real", one is re'al, the other, rel (with a long e sound).
     
    And I am sorry to say I agree, the only folks I remember say "herbs" are Brits... And again, my Webster's Universal Unabridged offers 2 pronunciations, the first being "ûrb", and the second "hûrb", noted as being "esp. British" English.

    So, I'll continue to say "ûrb"... :D

    Can't teach an okie nuttin' :D :D!
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Oh right - thanks for that. Then it turns out that the "kilometer" people are the newbies in pronunciation then. So this is an example of apparently reasonable pronunciation based on etymology taking over from traditional pronunciation. Same trap as above - although on reflection I don't think I was right to say it was to do with spelling. I think that language change is rarely because of spelling (although I know it is sometimes). I suppose the trap is that in English there is nothing in a given string of phonemes that tell us where the stress will necessarily fall.
    It seems to be a simple case of mistaken analogy:

    meter, hence kilometer

    Except that the more educated English speakers know that in Greek it would be kilometer. And, since they like Greek and they are educated, their version has greater prestige.

    By the way, what makes you call the "kilometer" accentuation "traditional"? Are you sure it's the oldest?...

    P.S. Oh wait, Badgrammar has found a different, quite convincing explanation (above).

    It states (I'll paraphrase a bit to avoid any nasty copyright issues) "The usual pronunciation for units of measurement beginning with kilo-... and for measurements ending in -meter, puts primary stress on the first syllable and secondary stress on the third. 'It would seem logic'* (in the text) that kilometer follow this pattern, and this pronunciation has been around since the early 1800's.[...]
    And that is yet another way to accentuate it: kilometer. This one, in a sense, is the most traditional, as it follows the accentuation pattern of Old English: always on the first syllable.

    In all honestly, I think the difference between kilometer and kilometer isn't much in English. Perhaps they're the same!
     

    french4beth

    Senior Member
    US-English
    I recently found out that the word "Celtic" is supposed to be pronounced with an sss at the beginning, not a k sound. Oops!

    I also used to confuse "nauseous" and "nauseated". If you say that you're nauseous, it actually means that you are making other people sick. If you're nauseated, it means that you're not feeling well.

    The religious education instructor at my church told a group of us that when her children were quite young, her youngest daughter popped her head into the kitchen and asked, "Mommy, what are you making?" to which Mom replied, "Lasagna". Her 4 year old daughter got very excited and said, "Oh, Mommy, you mean like 'Lasagna in the highest'?" The daughter had misinterpreted the lyrics of the church refrain "Hosanna in the highest". How cute!
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    By the way, what makes you call the "kilometer" accentuation "traditional"? Are you sure it's the oldest?...
    No - I said the other pronunciation was the "traditional" one, based on the fact that presumably the Greek pronunciation was the root. Based on the excerpt above it sounds as if the analogical "kilometer" came after "kilometer".
    P.S. Oh wait, Badgrammar has found a different, quite convincing explanation (above).

    And that is yet another way to accentuate it: kilometer. This one, in a sense, is the most traditional, as it follows the accentuation pattern of Old English: always on the first syllable.

    In all honestly, I think the difference between kilometer and kilometer isn't much in English. Perhaps they're the same!
    Yes - I think that we're talking about the same pronunciation - When I say the word that way it's very difficult to decide which is the primary stress and which is the secondary. I think we have basically two pronunciations - one with the stresses on the 1st and 3rd syllables and one with the stress on the second.

    In any case, to link this all to the thread title, it still seems that whatever the intricacies of this specific case the mother-tongue trap is unpredictable stress location in English (which allows analogy or false-analogy etc to change the pronunciation). We simply couldn't be having this conversation about French, for example, which has phrase stress rather than word stress, or Russian where the pronunciation of the "o" as "o" or "a" depends on whether it's stressed or not. I suppose in this specific case you could argue there is no trap, though, since both pronunciations are accepted.
     
    I recently found out that the word "Celtic" is supposed to be pronounced with an sss at the beginning, not a k sound. Oops!
    Well, wouldn't you know it, I used to say "Keltic", too... Until somebody told me it could only be "Seltic", and wasn't I silly to say otherwise...

    But, lo and behold, once again in my big and beautiful dictionary :), two pronunciations are given, the first of which is (drumroll, please...) "Keltic".

    And to link this to the thread title, pronunciation of the English language is not a fixed, one-pronunciation-fits-all prescription. There is a lot of variety, and some things we are told are mistakes, are not mistakes at all, simply variations on a theme :).
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    I recently found out that the word "Celtic" is supposed to be pronounced with an sss at the beginning, not a k sound. Oops!

    I also used to confuse "nauseous" and "nauseated". If you say that you're nauseous, it actually means that you are making other people sick. If you're nauseated, it means that you're not feeling well.

    The religious education instructor at my church told a group of us that when her children were quite young, her youngest daughter popped her head into the kitchen and asked, "Mommy, what are you making?" to which Mom replied, "Lasagna". Her 4 year old daughter got very excited and said, "Oh, Mommy, you mean like 'Lasagna in the highest'?" The daughter had misinterpreted the lyrics of the church refrain "Hosanna in the highest". How cute!
    According to Wiki, both "keltic" and "celtic" are allowed http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pronunciation_of_Celtic

    Edit - Badgrammar beat me to it!
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    And this is how English gets to have one of the most unpredictable spellings in the world. ;)
     

    LouisaB

    Senior Member
    English, UK
    So, the question is, why would it be illogical or incorrect to use this pronunciation?
    .
    I’m not personally a believer in the prescriptive approach to language. A dictionary records current usage; it does not issue rules. Where more than one pronunciation is current (and therefore understandable), then both are allowable, and neither (in my opinion) is ‘incorrect’.

    My personal preferences are another matter. To me, words are a means of communication so I always prefer the pronunciation that makes the meaning clearest. Hence, I would prefer kilo-metre to kil-OM-eter, because it clarifies its two recognisable elements – kilo (thousand) and metre (unit of measurement) – and makes the meaning of the whole instantly clear, potentially even to a non-native speaker. That doesn’t mean an alternative pronunciation is wrong – just (by definition) less clear. I also prefer ‘Keltic’ to ‘Seltic’, but only because I’ve never heard the Celts pronounced in any way other than the ‘Kelts’, and it’s helpful to make the link clear between them. If I find other people do say ‘the Selts’, then the reason for my preference disappears. If someone comes up with a good reason why ‘Seltic’ is a clearer way to express the concept, then I may have to rethink my pronunciation.

    For that reason, I don’t think these kind of pronunciations are really ‘mother-tongue traps’ except in the sense timpeac has already mentioned. To be a genuine ‘mispronunciation’, a word would have to be stressed in a manner virtually nobody else uses at all, or that is blatantly at odds with its spelling.

    One of my favourite of these last is ‘anemone’. This seems to be almost impossible to pronounce correctly – I certainly really struggle with it. The urge for the tongue to say ‘anenome’ is almost unbearable – which is why so many people do say that, and subsequently misspell it. I think we should all gang up on the dictionaries and get them to change the spelling to something easier!

    Louisa
     

    curly

    Senior Member
    English - Ireland
    Well, wouldn't you know it, I used to say "Keltic", too... Until somebody told me it could only be "Seltic", and wasn't I silly to say otherwise...

    But, lo and behold, once again in my big and beautiful dictionary :), two pronunciations are given, the first of which is (drumroll, please...) "Keltic".

    And to link this to the thread title, pronunciation of the English language is not a fixed, one-pronunciation-fits-all prescription. There is a lot of variety, and some things we are told are mistakes, are not mistakes at all, simply variations on a theme :).
    Here's where the Irish guy weighs in, even though I'm in no way celtic. I've never heard two pronounciations for this word. I heard Keltic for all things celtic, swords people tribalism etc. The only time I've heard Seltic is to do with the two teams, I've never heard of a seltic sword etc. That's not to say there isn't such a thing.

    Also, I thought for a very long time that there were two words, inflammable and enflammable, despite the fact that I must have only ever read enflammable a very few times as I've never seen it since I found out.
     

    Brioche

    Senior Member
    Australia English
    I say KIL-o-metre, for the same reason that I put the stress on the KIL in kilogram, kilolitre, kilowatt, kilopascal &c, &c, &c.

    Seltic is the name of a football team. For all other uses I say Keltic.
     

    tanager

    Senior Member
    US/English
    I agree, and along the same lines as anemone, Phoebe is impossible to pronounce correctly from simply looking at it. It defies all the laws of spelling and pronunciation logic.
    I believe it was George Bernard Shaw, an advocate of English spelling reform, who pointed out that the word "fish" could be spelled "ghoti" by analogy with other spellings of the constituent sounds: "gh" from "enough," "o" from "women," "ti" from "-tion".
     

    jlc246

    Member
    English - US
    Being spelling-challenged, I always appreciate evidence of traps in English spelling and pronounciation. There are so many that I feel I have some excuse. The explanation that English comes from many sources, including both Latin and Germanic languages, is only somewhat comforting.

    My first attempts to spell "ruff," "thru," "doe" (as in pastry) and "awt" would never have come up with rough, through, dough, and ought!


    P.S. If you search on the web for the keywords Reasons English Difficult Learn, you will find several copies of a list of sentences using words that are spelled the same way and pronounced differently.
     

    MarcB

    Senior Member
    US English
    And I am sorry to say I agree, the only folks I remember say "herbs" are Brits... And again, my Webster's Universal Unabridged offers 2 pronunciations, the first being "ûrb", and the second "hûrb", noted as being "esp. British" English.

    So, I'll continue to say "ûrb"... :D

    Can't teach an okie nuttin' :D :D!
    I never pronounce the h in herb and 95% of AE speakers I have heard do not either but the other 5% do.
     

    Arrius

    Senior Member
    English, UK
    I believe it was George Bernard Shaw, an advocate of English spelling reform, who pointed out that the word "fish" could be spelled "ghoti" by analogy with other spellings of the constituent sounds: "gh" from "enough," "o" from "women," "ti" from "-tion".
    When G.B.S. said that he was being, as usual, playfully provocative. He knew very well that in those positions in a word neither gh can be /f/ not ti without -on after it /sh/. However the O of women pronounced as short /i/ is really an anomaly. There is an old joke concerning some foreigner who, having dedicated his life to perfecting his English, saw to his horror on disembarking at Dover, a large notice proclaiming "Shaw's Pygmalion - Pronounced Success". Whereupon he threw himself in despair into the sea#. Shaw was preoccupied with spelling, used always to spell "honour and favour in the American way without the U, and left a large part of his fortune to the cause of Spelling Reform. But to no avail: it is an impossibility, because there are so many ways of pronouncing the language both nationwide and worldwide that anglophones could never agree on an acceptable new system (e.g. in Scotland night is often pronounced as Swiss Germans pronounce nicht with the ach-Laut not the ich-Laut and in Received Pronunciation the R is unpronounced in many instances. Thus we are stuck with a spelling system that is largely historical/etymological, like the French where août from Latin AUGUSTUS is usually pronounced as a short /oo/, the circumflex indicating where various letters have got lost. But I suppose both nations should feel glad that they don't have to learn thousands of ideograms that over the years have lost any resemblance to the original pictures representing the words they stand for as in Chinese.
    As regards personal language traps, I used to wonder when singing the national anthem as a child why King George VI expected people to bring him juicy plums: "Send him victorias (for victorious)". And I have since heard children singing carols at Christmas who would bestow on Baby Jesus "Gold and merde and Frankenstein instead of the more traditional "Gold and myrrh and frankincense". Incidentally, the way myrrh is spelt is a good example of our bizarre phonetics and the way I say it is entirely without R single or double and certainly without the H.
    # To understand this joke you need to know that the word pronounced is often used to mean very great/ considerable and also that Pygmalion is a play by Shaw whose hero is Professor Higgins a phonetician. The show and the film "My Fair Lady" were based on this play.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Thanks for all your contributions on traps. I'm really glad I'm not alone!

    I just thought, given the posts on the pitfalls caused by English spelling, that I'd post a link to the poem "The Chaos" (you need to scroll down a bit before you find the poem itself). A health warning - it's mind-boggling:)

    Loob
     

    Brioche

    Senior Member
    Australia English
    As regards personal language traps, I used to wonder when singing the national anthem as a child why King George VI expected people to bring him juicy plums: "Send him victorias (for victorious)". And I have since heard children singing carols at Christmas who would bestow on Baby Jesus "Gold and merde and Frankenstein instead of the more traditional "Gold and myrrh and frankincense".
    I suppose that is in the category of mondegreen.

    During my early years at school, we had prayers before and after each break. I used to think that "The Word was made flesh" was "The world was made flush", and thought it had something to do with flushing toilets.
     

    tanager

    Senior Member
    US/English
    I wonder how many US schoolchildren, having to recite the "Pledge of Allegiance," thought it went "one nation, invisible..." instead of "one nation, indivisible..." (Like I did.)
     

    Arrius

    Senior Member
    English, UK
    I was very impressed by the poem "The Chaos" supplied by Loob. I think the only word whose pronunciation (and meaning) I was unsure about was "hough", but it really does present a horrifying challenge to foreign learners of the language. I suppose having only one grammatical gender for inanimate objects and "unmarked" animate ones, and simple verb forms and word order, we can afford the luxury of hoarding in a more-or-less intact state the confused bric-à-brac we have collected like Citizen Kane, or Big Daddy in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" from the (linguistic) treasure troves of the entire world. I think that this also allows us a much bigger vocabulary than any language I am aware of, as can be seen from the relative thickness of the English section of any bi-lingual dictionary.
     

    jlc246

    Member
    English - US
    The Chaos is awe-fully awful -- that is to say, wonderful! Thank you, Loob.

    Growing up in California, my mother-tongue had words that came originally from Mexico and Spain and retained something of their original pronounciation. These included the names of the California cities, San Jose, San Jacinto, and La Jolla, which were traps for the unwary because (among other things) the "J" is projounced like the "H" in "hole" instead of like the "J" in "joke." I lived not far from San Jose, but I stumbled over the other names on maps as a kid.

    When someone mispronounced the name of one of these cities, out would come the joke about the lady who visited California. Someone asked her, "What cities are you going to visit?" and she replied, "I'm starting in San Josie" (with the j as in joke). She was politely corrected, "That's San Jose" (more or less Hosay for those who aren't familiar with Californian or Spanish). Then she said she was going to "San Jak-into" and was politely told that it was "San Jacinto" (more or less Hasintoe or Haseentoe). She was ending her trip in La "Joll-la". Once more, she was corrected to "La Jolla" (like Hoiya, for the CA city). Finally, someone asked how long she was planning to stay in California, and she said, "Well, I was going to stay until Hune, but I like it so much, I think I'll stay until Huly." (June/July)

    When we moved to San Antonio, there were a whole new set of traps for my tongue, because many countries and cultures contributed to the language here, which then got it's very own Texan flavor. A few local favorites are Bexar county (pronounced "Bear" like the animal) and the cities of Boerne (Bernie) and Gruene (Green).
     

    Sprache

    Senior Member
    English/inglés
    I wonder how many US schoolchildren, having to recite the "Pledge of Allegiance," thought it went "one nation, invisible..." instead of "one nation, indivisible..." (Like I did.)
    I did that. When I was in grade school, I said "I pledge of allegiance to the flag..." also. Since the title is The Pledge of Allegiance, I assumed that's how it was recited. :p
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    I wonder how many US schoolchildren, having to recite the "Pledge of Allegiance," thought it went "one nation, invisible..." instead of "one nation, indivisible..." (Like I did.)
    And similar how many children in "wish you a merry christmas" wish it "to you and your king" instead of "kin" and in "away in a manger" emplore Jesus to "stay by my side til morning is night" instead of "nigh"?

    I guess this is the trap of still using old or unusual words, or simply English having a large vocabulary? After all who other than in these instances ever says "kin" or "nigh"?
     

    Sairen

    Senior Member
    USA / English
    "Can you loan:cross: me your comb/ pen/car etc.?" It is very widely used now in the UK and even more in the States.
    Wow, that is widespread. I'm a voracious reader, and consider my vocabulary and grammar both to be quite strong, and I STILL had no idea that wasn't correct. :)
     

    jonquiliser

    Senior Member
    Svediż tal-Finlandja
    Wow, that is widespread. I'm a voracious reader, and consider my vocabulary and grammar both to be quite strong, and I STILL had no idea that wasn't correct. :)
    Earlier on in this thread, someone said this:


    I think this is a bit like being "irritated" by "disorientate". ;)

    Cambridge says this:

    loan
    verb [T] MAINLY US
    to lend:
    This library loans books, CDs and videotapes.

    In other words, I'm not sure that "loan", used in the way you mentioned, is so much "wrong" as typically "AE". Perhaps Panjy can find a usage note for us that will clear up the matter. :)

    Gaer
    :)
     

    cattivabambina

    Member
    Germany
    A few years ago I wrote "unindependent" in an English class test. The teacher marked it red, of course, and I asked him what was wrong about it. I never heard the word "dependent" or "depend" before, so I didn't realise independent is the negative form of dependent.

    When I was a child, I always thought the German "Gott sei Dank!" (Thanks god) is only one word and spelled it "gozeidank" in my mind. When a friend used this "word" once, it struck to my mind and I proudly told everyone that it actually means "Gott-sei-Dank". My friends were a bit confused, coz they already knew it for some reason...
     

    danielfranco

    Senior Member
    A word that always seems to make people pause to search for the logic of its relationships is the "flammable" one. Both in English and Spanish.

    English: If something that burns easily is flammable, something that doesn't is... What? Unflammable? Inflammable? Ah... Yes, non-flammable. But wait: it should have been "inflammable", in the beginning, no?

    Spanish: The word for something that burns easily is "inflamable", which sounds actually like the contrary, since many words that are "not the thing" start with "in-" (incauto, imprescindible, independiente, etc.). So, what's the word for something that is not "inflamable"? "Incombustible". Argh!

    That was easy, no?
     

    Sprache

    Senior Member
    English/inglés
    When I was a child, I always thought the German "Gott sei Dank!" (Thanks god) is only one word and spelled it "gozeidank" in my mind. When a friend used this "word" once, it struck to my mind and I proudly told everyone that it actually means "Gott-sei-Dank". My friends were a bit confused, coz they already knew it for some reason...
    I did something similar with the word Gesundheit, which is sometimes said in English. I had no idea it was all one word until I saw it written out, which was less than a year ago.
     

    rodoke

    Senior Member
    en-US; .us
    I read a lot of books as a child, many of them written in British English. As a result, a lot of those spellings have crept into my writing. I don't do it as much as I used to, but I always notice the odd "criticise" "catalogue" or "aeon" every now and then.

    As for the pronunciation debate. o-RE-ga-no, o-re-GA-no, let's call the whole thing off!
     

    Arrius

    Senior Member
    English, UK
    cattivabambina:
    "You really say "Gesundheit" in English?"

    In America, yes, where it is reinforced by the simillar word in Yiddish, as often happens there, but in the UK it's "Bless you!"
     

    Sprache

    Senior Member
    English/inglés
    cattivabambina:
    "You really say "Gesundheit" in English?"

    In America, yes, where it is reinforced by the simillar word in Yiddish, as often happens there, but in the UK it's "Bless you!"
    As I said above, it is almost always Bless you! in America too. That's the norm. But people will sometimes say Gesundheit to "spice things up" a bit; if that makes sense...
     

    Brioche

    Senior Member
    Australia English
    A word that always seems to make people pause to search for the logic of its relationships is the "flammable" one. Both in English and Spanish.

    English: If something that burns easily is flammable, something that doesn't is... What? Unflammable? Inflammable? Ah... Yes, non-flammable. But wait: it should have been "inflammable", in the beginning, no?

    Spanish: The word for something that burns easily is "inflamable", which sounds actually like the contrary, since many words that are "not the thing" start with "in-" (incauto, imprescindible, independiente, etc.). So, what's the word for something that is not "inflamable"? "Incombustible". Argh!

    That was easy, no?
    The word in English was/is inflammable.

    Then someone decided that the in- prefix looked like a negative and could confuse the semi-literate. So flammable was created.

    So now we have two words, the traditional inflammable, and the neologism flammable with the same meaning.
     
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