Monday, October 24, 2005

Embetter: Perfectly Cromulent

Michael Gilleland objects to GW's use of the word "embetter" in his speech on Oct. 18th:
We're going after criminal organizations and coyotes that traffic in human beings. These people are the worst of the worst. They prey on innocent life. They take advantage of people who want to embetter their own lives....
Personally, I think it's a perfectly cromulent word, created on the [EN + adjective] formation, such as "embiggen": "A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man." (The EN is realized, at a surface level, as EM because of partial assimilation to the word-initial bilabial in "big" and "better.")

7 comments:

Ken said...
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Ken said...

Great post but I'm wondering now... how do you understand the form *biggen? Is it a doubling of last consonant to preserve the short vowel with an *-en a suffix?

EMC said...

Ah yes ... according to Professor Frink, that would be an example of "non-contiguous affix compounding."

Jan Wim said...

This etymology is in fact better than the usual one (opposite of embitter), I think; the word has in fact already become quite popular. Need one demonstrate that the speaker or his speech-writer watched the Simpsons shows, or is general usage sufficient as proof? If there is no -en, one does not hear the echo of "The Holy Spirit enlightens...", of course (which proves your point about em- and en-, Ed!). By the way, isn't "Noble and Holy Spirit" somewhere in the Roman Missal? Jan-Wim Wesselius, Theological University of Kampen, The Netherlands

EMC said...

Actually, perhaps one can say that [ADJ] + -en = intransitive, ingressive, such as "lighten"; while en- + ADJ + -en = transitive, causative, such as "enlighten." Therefore we may posit such a form as *biggen, "to become big." Also in the Simpsons is attested the form "dumbening," from "dumben," to become dumb, and we may posit a transitive form *endumben, "to make dumb," ex. "Reading this blog will really endumben you."

theswain said...

On the other hand, there already exists the verb "better" most often used in infinitive form "to better".

I'll also add that "better" is the comparative form of either good or of well. I can not think of a comparative + EN formation.

Thus, unless I'm wrong and I may be, I'd say the construction is "incorrect" in that forming a verb off a comparative by adding EN is not a typical English word formation strategy nor is EN a verb intensifier in English. He didn't take an adjective and make a verb, and he didn't create a verb to cover a situation in which none exists.

Kevin said...

I agree with theswain that this one was hit foul. Accepting new words when good ones exist (in this case even built on the same root), needlessly embloats the language.