Sunday, April 22, 2007

Neither time nor place

I shall dignify Daniel's good remarks with yet another dedicated post. Tho I repeat, this is not an argument.

In response to his comments on my last post:

It seems to me that a "nonce" word can be expressely suited to a purpose while "rare" simply means "seldom found." Reading an OED entry we might show judicious skepticism regarding the continuation of the "nonce" status. What is likely a note on the origin of a word becomes a curious fact only about the past when a word enters general use.

That said -- neither of these words is flying around wantonly, tho by his searching Daniel has found that anachorism is twice as common (a statistic that my search does not support--as I search, anatopism leads with a ratio of 2270:535).

If we step away from the OED and consult the Oxford Companion to the English Language we find that anatopism is completely left out while anachorism gets its own entry as an accepted term in "rhetoric, literature, and drama" And though it is called "a rare term" it merits a cross-reference under foreignism.

I hardly think it fair to deem anachorism the step-brother--thus giving it the bastard status. Let's call them peers. We'll likely never know which will end up with the inheriting the wealth. Though I would bet on anatopism given given how transparent topos is as a root meaning place.


  1. I got the same ratio you did after reading your post, but assure you I had my other result earlier. I was quick to dismiss nonce, while embracing the "valuable" connotation of rare, but I agree that there is merit to a thing fit to a purpose. Ironically enough that is what started this whole bit; anatopism was my nonce.

    Words give us a special power. Unfortunately, power corrupts.

  2. Ha! I was going to bring up your affinity for your own nonce word and question your integrity. But then I remembered that G-d loves us because he created us.

    Plus this is all very interesting to me and I'd hate to turn it into a contest.

  3. For what it's worth, from a psycholinguistic perpsective I'd weigh in towards anatopism, for the reason that on first reading anachorism, I read anachronism until I realized the context was off. This seems to be a variation of the "Rawlinson Effect" where internal letter order is of lower importance than the first and last letter. While that usually applies primarily to shorter words, the faster a reader is, the larger the words they read in this way, which is compounded by the overall similarity of the vertical profile of the two words. Use anachorism too often, and paradoxically the more skilled some readers are the more likely they are to stumble on it.

    Anatopism, however, stands out on its own creating little confusion. While it has some slight similarities too a few other words, many of those are just as rare and anachronism is regularly encountered. Or, at least, it is regularly encountered by myself.

  4. I'd bet that as anachorism is used more often skilled readers will make the mistake less often than unskilled readers.

    I'm sure someday you'll encounter anachronism when you're not alone.


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