Friday, January 12, 2007

No Ap-ologies Necessary.

Well I can't remember exactly what the wording (or the clue) was, but in a category called "World Museums" Alex Trebek read aloud something that indicated the answer would be some type of -ology. I believe a patchwork or mötley form of the clüe was

(something-or-other was offered to this-or-that museum on the condition that they agree to keep on staff an expert in) "this -ology."

No contestant supplied the right response and Alex, true to the rhythm indicated in the clue, provided the answer with a pause after the type and before the -ology. I.e. the answer was anthropology, but he pronounced it with an obvious pause after "anthro-" then he proceeded to finish with "-pology."

So what type of "-ology"? According to Alex's pause, the "anthro-" type.

There's something missing there. The form of the clue and the syllabification of the response imply that the word is split two different ways. Either as anthrop-ology, or anthro-pology.

Is it that one is a phonetic/phonological syllabification while the other is an etymological syllabification? Well the phonological split would probably favour a maximized onset (some will disagree, but I like it as a rule of thumb) and that would explain why Alex provided the response with the pause before the [p]. [æn.θrə.'pa.lə.dʒi].

So it would seem at first that the clue asked for a type of "-ology" because etymologically the suffix is -ology. And other sciences would seem at first to support this as a suffix. bi-ology, psych-ology, anthrop-ology, astr-ology, meteor-ology, zo-ology all end in -ology. And that's the common belief: that -ology meanse "study of." But most people know that the root that means 'life' is bio- no bi-. And most people can figure that the root for star is astro- which makes more sense than astr-. And since we know the Greek for 'word' or 'reason' is logo-s (and some snooping shows us that logia was discourse) we're left wondering why the Jeopordy! writers decided to ask for a type of "-ology". Why take that stranded -o- (which lost an -n in the combinative role) and separate it from its root? This is an unfair question because the -o- in many -ology words is a productive connective form on analogy with the regular -o- ending of Greek nouns in combinative form. In other words, because it is so regular some argue that -ology might be considered a form.

But in our current tale Alex Trebek snubs the last TWO segments of the Greek combinative form άνɵρωπο-. Why? Probably because -pology is not nearly regular enough to be recognized as a suffix. And since the 'o' represents the stressed vowel of the word, without it "-logy" is a rare and uncomfortable pyrrhic foot. On it's own -logy would most likely get a stress on the first syllable and that would require either the odd sounding ['lʌdʒi] rhyming with "fudgy" or the shift to ['ladʒi] rhyming with "stodgy" or a shift to a possible underlying form ['lowdʒi] rhyming with...go-gee? flow-gee?

By choosing to give half of anthropology in the clue the Jeopardy! writers typed their way into a corner. It's like when you start an analogy and it turns out to be...a...not...good analogy.


Afterthought: There is of course a tangent right into the discussion of 'workaholic' which some continue to argue would mean a person addicted to workahol. But why isn't it spelled 'workohol'?


  1. I also thought of the -holic suffix when you mentioned the
    -ology. I like your conclusion to the matter too; they wrote themselves into a corner. The outs they had as options would have complicated things even more. If Alex had gone with an Anthrop-ology, the stress might have landed on "throp" which would have sounded like some British pronounciation, see aluminium or missile. You addressed the combinative powers of the "o" particularly in the example of anthropology (I don't think the root is anthropo, is it?), so I won't try to defend an
    antropo-logy pronounciation. Thank you.

  2. Actually the root is Anthropo-s. Most of these roots has either an -s or an -n that was dropped in the combinative.

    And it has not been the task English that has put these compound words together. Greek had the word anthropologos already.

    There are some words that show the units are meaningful and productive in English: Molly Shannon's "joy-ologist"; method-ology; music-ology; and any other nonce term like "TV-ologist" or "book-ologist".

    No one (few?) would say jokingly "I'm a TV-logist" or I study "booklogy". The -o- makes "-ology" a productive form.

    In his pronunciation of the response Alex revealed that assuming phonology and etymology to be cooperative forces on lexicon can mangle your divisions.

  3. I hate the word UFOlogy. Should I say, "you-eff-oh-logy,' or "you-eff-ology", or "oofology"? It's just not right that the O standing for object just gets merged into the (etymologically superfluous) -o- of -ology.

  4. That's hilarious Neal. It's just the type of word that annoys me too. Oofology [u'faləʤi] is so close. As soon as the right person starts saying [ju'faləʤi] it'll become the standard.


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