Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Able was I, ere I saw Ible.

I'm a pretty good speller, and I don't say that to brag. It's part of my job; I'd better be at least passable at it. Like everyone else I do rely on spellcheck for simpel wurds, but proper nouns, complex words outside of spellcheck's purview, those I look up if there's any doubt at all. Often I still work on hard copy, and you bet I keep a dictionary handy.


Even I, fairly decent speller, can be muddled by lesser challenges than mulligatawny, or championship words like esquamulose or vivisepulture. For example: If the word ends in
-able or -ible, I'm off to the dictionary to look it up.

You can't always tell by sounding it out. The third I in invisible is usually pronounced so you can hear it, but retractable can often sound just like retractible.

Oxford tells us that most -able/-ible adjectives use the -able, and gives some tips on how to tell which to use, like:

♚"When a word ends in -able, the main part of the word (i.e. the bit that comes before the
-able ending) is usually a complete word in itself." Bearable is one example they use.

♚"If the main part of the word ends with a ‘hard’ c (pronounced like the c in cab) or a ‘hard’ g (pronounced like the g in game) then the ending is always -able." Like irrevocable. When it's the soft C as in invincible, the I is used -- otherwise it would be pronounced invinkable.

The article doesn't tell us why we even have this split among the words. Who decided that some had to leave the -able camp and go to the -ible camp? Guys who sell dictionaries, I'll bet.

Anyway, it inspired this, which I hope you will find bearable:


“Able and Ible”

By Frederick Key

Incred and Access
Sat down at table
Rehashed their anger
Rebelled against Able.

“No more!” said Incred
“Not a single more word!
I’m through now with Able!”
And everyone heard.

“Me too!” shouted Access,
“I don’t mean to quibble
But it’s all gone too far!
Let’s take up with Ible.”

Incred led a walkout!
Others, at his behest,
Like Flex, Elig, and Terr
And even Suggest,

Went from Able to Ible
They all felt the pull
Of a different suffix
(Said Access and Gull).

Convert was converted,
Suscept fell in line.
Ostens said “It’s obvious
This change does me fine.”

Then Able got Irrit
To give him the score.
He said “Let them go!
We can always get more.”

The words were all happy
But we users, unstable,
We're always unclear
If it’s Ible or Able

That hangs on a word
Saying “able to be”
Save looking it up
Irrevocably.
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