We've been having some problems with people starting to (jocular Linguist English) peeve about unrelated topics in the comments section. This has upset some readers (and also me, but I'm hardened by 11 years of blogging). More importantly it is against the comments policy, so I've had to resume being a police-y person about it. If you'd like to request a topic for the blog, please feel free to email me (see contact page). If you'd like to just let off opinion-steam, there are lots of places on the web for that. Here, we're trying to get away from the opinions and into the facts.

So, in the interest of the comments policy, I've just deleted a comment on a previous post. Having already checked out whether the assumptions in the comment were fact or fiction, I might as well make it into a blog post. I know that this is a bad idea. I don't want to set up the precedent that topic-changing comments will get immediate blog-treatment. But, it's Saturday morning and my resistance is low.

So, Rob commented on the last blog post:
It's My first time on this blog and as an amateur aficionado of grammar, I love what you've done to the place. I just wanted to share my biggest AmE-BrE bugbear:

My teeth are set a-grinding when I hear the words "tenaciousness", "ferociousness" or any word where there is an "ousness" added, largely by North Americans (to include Canada to a certain extent). I find myself shouting at the screen when I heard it for the first time.

It's not even that "ferociousness" gives a deeper description of the property. You can BE ferocious but should you exhibit ferociousness or display ferocity? I know which one I would rather hear. The same for tenacity. It suggests a certain rawness (I know. Ironic, right?) that "tenaciousness" just detracts from, yet I know the "ousness" phenomenon is grammatically legal. It just sounds lazy to me.

At the risk of inciting a blaze - what does everyone else think?

First, thanks for the compliment, Rob, and I hope we'll see more of you around here. But now I'm a-gonna get grumpy. What people think about language doesn't tell us much about language. It does tell us a lot about identity (and the role of language in forging it) and about cognitive biases in thinking about language and people. This is the theme of the book I'm sending off to the publishers at the end of April (which is not planned for publication till 2018, so [orig. AmE] don't hold your breath!).

As Rob notes, -ness is a productive suffix in English. which means it's legal to put with adjectives, even those Latin/French-derived ones that might be associated with other suffixed noun forms. Plenty of -ous adjectives are mainly nominalized (made into nouns) with -ness -- for example, consciousness, callousness, and righteousness (though that one isn't French/Latin in origin, just French-affected). Then there's suspiciousness--which generally means something different from the related noun suspicion. Those nouns are normal in British and American English, so there's nothing bad about ousness in itself.

In other cases, as Rob notes, there are other, usually French/Latin-derived, nouns that don't use -ness and that often are quite (BrE) different in form to the -ous adjective. But contrary to Rob's presumption, adding -ness to these things does not seem to be a particularly American activity. In the GloWBE corpus, we find similar rates in BrE and AmE for anxiousness (rather than anxiety) and pretentiousness (rather than pretension), for instance.

So what about Rob's examples of tenaciousness and ferociousness? For each of these, GloWBE has a statistically insignificant difference between the two national dialects--5 and 7 in AmE, 6 and 8 in BrE, respectively (raw numbers, from a collection of about 450 million words from each of those countries). These--in both countries--are outnumbered at least 100-fold by their counterparts tenacity and ferocity. In the News on the Web (NoW) corpus, there are 0.4 ferociousnesses per million words (pmw) in AmE, 0.3 in BrE (but .15 in Pakistan, by far the most). For tenaciousness it's 0.2 in AmE and 0.1 in BrE. (Sri Lanka "wins" with 0.4.)

Image from here
What's a bit interesting is that all of the related words (tenacious, tenacity, tenacously, ferocious, etc.) are found (sometimes significantly) more in the British data than the American. For example in NoW, ferocity occurs 1.05 pmw in AmE and 1.71 in BrE, and ferocious 2.29 in AmE and 4.62 in BrE. Americans use the words a fair amount, but Brits use them much more. Lower numbers set up a situation where using a more transparent morphological (i.e. suffixation) process is more likely to happen. (We see that even more strongly in newer Englishes as in Pakistan and Sri Lanka.) But the UK/US differences in occurrence in ferocity and tenacity are very small, if they're there at all.

The -ity forms sound more "learnéd" because they are generally learn{ed/t} through exposure, rather than derived (orig. BrE slang) on the fly. People like those -ity nouns because they are a sign of a big vocabulary. But they're also a bit of a (BrE) faff. That is to say, they come at a cognitive cost. You have to keep them in your mental dictionary and understand that they are related to the adjective forms even though they have different vowels (compare the a and o in tenacious/tenacity, ferocious/ferocity). The -ness forms can be derived at the spur of the moment. Anyone has access to them. They are, I'd say, a bit more democratic.
The low, low numbers for the -ousness versions of these nouns mean that you'll hear the -ity versions more in any accent. The similar numbers of -ousness versions probably mean that if you regularly hear one accent more, you're more likely to have heard the -ousness form in that accent. But when we hear something unusual in an accent that isn't ours (and especially in a variety of English that's regularly accused of [AmE] messing with English), we notice it more. There's a lot of confirmation bias going on in people's (orig. AmE) peeves or bugbears about other people's language.

On a final note (oh, I can't believe I've spent the hour I was supposed to spend on something else this morning!), I was surprised to learn that US and UK use precocity at similar rates and much more than precociousness. I always feel like I'm using a joke-word [like the AmE ridiculosity] when I say it.

(P.S. for Rob:  I haven't preserved the link to your Google page from the original comment--but if you want to be identified, let me know and I'll stick a link in.)


  1. I can remember getting the same feeling as Rob on hearing a -ness word recently, though I can't remember what specific* word. I don't recall, either, whether I mentally cursed America for it, though I do, rightly or wrongly, tend to regard Uncle Sam as prime of the usual suspects in such matters. I suspect you are right, Lynne, in your ascription of the psychology of such reactions: essentially superciliousness (or is that superciliosity?).

    Another one that provokes a similar reaction in me is when nouns and verbs that are often used together fuse into a single verb. For example, whenever I hear or read of someone who is going to "fundraise", I always think "No, you're going to raise funds!". Can you disenchant me of the notion that this tendency might be coming in with the West Wind? There's no reason why language shouldn't develop like this (or by back-formation of nouns with -ness), but grumpy old me doesn't seem to want to accept it. (I plead relevance of this apparent digression, since -- notwithstanding the heading -- the post is largely about people's often-erroneous intuitions about language.)

    * We're all used to people saying pacific for specific, but I actually heard someone the other day, in a TV vox pop, say "facific". I'm still waiting to hear an over-corrector refer to the Specific Ocean. (Ok, this bit is just plain off-topic, but I had to tell someone.)

    1. Anonymous in New Jersey25 March, 2017 21:19

      I am also turned off (more and more frequently, these days) when I hear the (new-to-me) noun-verb fusions used as a single verb. Only, I haven't yet ascribed the habit as belonging primarily to either AmE or BrE speakers. "Turned off" is perhaps a mild way of expressing what I actually feel: nails-on-a-chalkboard discomfort in my ears.

      The -ness words that have perfectly adequate alternatives, on the other hand, usually just make me shake my head and shrug my shoulders. (Once, I giggled over one, but that was because it came from a little kid who said it with a super serious expression his face.)

      – AiNJ

    2. "Chalkboard": there's a word we don't need.

    3. Anonymous in New Jersey01 April, 2017 19:03


      I don't understand your comment. Are you suggesting that "chalkboard" is a word formed in a similar way to the topic at hand? That is to say, something similar to the -ous adjectives that already had perfectly usable alternatives? If so, I have to politely disagree. To my mind, the concepts are nothing alike.

      If you meant something else, I'm completely baffled as to what point you intended me to see.

      – AiNJ

    4. Maybe I misunderstood, but I took LBS to mean that we no longer need the word chalkboard because the thing has disappeared from our classrooms.

      But not, I suggested, from our restaurants.

    5. Anonymous in New Jersey03 April, 2017 02:57

      Aaahh. Now I get it! (Though I disagree with that, as well.) Thanks, David Crosbie.

      Sorry, Lynne. I didn't mean for "chalkboard" to become a thing.

      – AiNJ

  2. Um, this isn't my pet peeve [AmE noun?] - and I wouldn't associate the formation with a nation, more with a group who don't know the right noun, or who want to describe an emotion seen by an observer rather than as felt by the person involved.
    So, I (Brit) don't peeve (verb) about irritants, I get peeved. When very irritated I may become peevish! And in such a situation, I may exhibit peevishness...

  3. Rob (if you're reading this)

    Are you sure these there are more words of the same pattern that affect you?

    Tenacious and ferocious share an unusual property: they're derived from Latin adjectives ending in x.

    A number of -acious words are based on -ax adjectives, based in turn on Latin verb stems. One of these is tenacious, which follows another Latin pattern by adding the suffix Latin -itas/French ite to form tenacity.

    But let's not assume too much generality. According to the OED, other adjectives treat -acious as an English suffix — resulting in a sensible word like scribacious and the rather less serious newpaperacious (used by Thackeray) nd quizzacious (used by Jeremy Bentham). We obviously don't expect them to produce newspaperacity or quizzacity, or even scribacity.

    But what of the original -ax words? Even these seem attracted to -aciousness

    Capacious has a related noun capacity — but it has a different meaning from 'the property of being capacious', for which we use capaciousness.

    Fallacious briefly had related fallacity, but this has long been obsolete, giving way to fallaciousness.

    Sagacious is unusual in that it has produced both sagacity and sagaciousness but prefers the -aciousness word.

    Your other word ferocious is from an -ox adjective, but we don't seem to have 'borrowed' too many of these. The only one I can detect is precocious, which Lynne has already commented on.

    I can think of just one -ix adjective that produces English words. But felix produced felicity in the first place. The adjective felicitous is derived from the noun. I'm not sure whether felicitousness is used much, or whether it's truly synonymous with felicity.

    OK, yes there is another -ix adjective: prolix. This was taken over into English without modification. As a result there's a noun prolixity but there can't be *proliciousness — although prolixness does exist.

    1. I've thought of two more, which probably appeal to/disgust Rob in the same way as tenaciousness:

      mendacious, mendacity, mendaciousness
      perspirations, perspicacity (+ perspicacy), perspicaciousness

    2. There's also opacity and opaqueness — but not, of course, *opacious or *opaciousness.

    3. Another one I forgot about : audacious, audacity, audaciousness.

    4. And an -ix word I didn't think of. It gives us English meretricious but there's not *meretricity — only meretriciousness.

    5. Surely covetous is typical of the large majority of -ous adjectives whose corresponding nouns are only derivations with -ness.

      I've been trying to think of exceptions to the generalisation — in addition to the -acious/-ocious words identified by Rob.

      I've though of another class: adjectives which form nouns which rhyme with -ocity but a different etymology revealed in the spelling -osity. There aren't many of these, I think.

      One clear example is impetuous, impetuosity, impetuousness. Here the -ousness word means the same as the -osity word, and — like Rob's examples — is less usual. But the related virtuous is quite different. Virtuosity is very different in meaning from other nouns, and virtuousness has to contend with the really common word virtue. The antonym vice and its adjective vicious allow only for viciousness, which is very different in meaning from vice.

      The similarly formed continuousness, consciousness, fatuousness are, arguably, at least partly distinct in meaning from continuity, conscience, fatuity

    6. In addition to ferocious and precocious, I've just thought of atrocious. Yes, there's atrocity but this tends to be restricted in meaning to 'atrocious act'. To express 'the quality of being atrocious' I think we're more likely to say atrociousness

    7. Tom Goodwillie26 March, 2017 23:14


    8. and religiosity — except that it's a very different noun from religiousness and religion.

      Still, not so very many -osity adjectives. And a surprisingly large proportion of them are accusations.

    9. Prolix could apparently yield prolixious and prolixiousness, at least for Charles Dickens (in "All the Year Round" found via Google search).

      Convex yields convexity but no other variants I can find.

    10. The OED has an entry for prolixous, but regards it as obsolete, with only one quotation — from about 1527.

      It seems that Dickens either dug it up or re-invented it.

      Prolixness, on the other hand, has a continuous history from 1590. Te most recent quote is :

      1992 Jrnl. Contemp. Hist. 27 100 Ben-Gurion's diary recorded amicable feelings toward the Secretary-General, even jokes about his prolixness.

      They have no entry for prolixousness. Perhaps you could write and tell them about it.

    11. Convex is interesting.

      Unlike the adjectives discussed above, it isn't from a Latin adjective in ‑ax / ‑ox / ‑ix but from the differently formed convexus. So it seems that all these ‑acity / ‑ocity / ‑icity nouns are based on the Latin process of adding ‑itas — either in Latin itself or in a language using a suffix derived from ‑itas.

      And yes, it does yield other variants.

      Convexness is listed as rare but not obsolete.

      • The variant convexed yields convexedness and the obsolete convexedly.

    12. There's more to it than I thought.

      A similar pair of words based on the Latin pair in ‑ex / ‑icitas is simple, simplicity. Related in meaning is complex, but this is derived from Latin complexus — similarly to convex. Based on this meaning relationship, modern languages have formed words like English complicity — as if there had been a Latin word *complicitas, which there wasn't.

      However, complicity means something other than 'the quality of being complex'. So to express this we invented the word complexity. The alternative invention complexness has found a place in the OED, but it's a lot rarer.

    13. Another ‑acity noun: veracity.

      It's from Latin verax and produces both veracity and veraciousness. But in this instance I don't think the ‑aciousness word has really caught on.

      By contrast, Latin salax has yielded salicity and salaciousness, but with the ‑acity word being the one we don't use.

    14. [i]Sagacious is unusual in that it has produced both sagacity and sagaciousness but prefers the -aciousness word.[/i]

      Is this really the case? I can't say that I have ever even heard sagaciousness in my life, though obviously I am not the arbiter of such things.

    15. You're probably right. I just had a mental block on sagacity at the time of posting.

      The OED doesn't have a separate entry for sagaciousness, listing it as a derivation of sagacious. So there's no separate indication of frequency. This may be changed in the Third Edition, when I predict there'll be a discrete entry for sagaciousness. Meanwhile, the only information is that sagacious and sagacity are both in the moderate band four of frequency.

    16. If I were to encounter "veraciousness" in real life, I would take it as being a riff on "truthiness" (a witticism in US politics applied to a dubious claim or some wishful thinking unabashedly presented as truth).

    17. It was tried out at least twice in the nineteenth century in British books on serious subjects. The OED quotes:

      1860 I. Taylor Spirit Hebr. Poetry (1873) 63 The veraciousness of the record.
      1879 J. Morley Burke v. 97 Burke's habitual veraciousness.

  4. I have to admit I don't think I'd ever particularly noticed "tenaciousness" as a word; as for "ferociousness", I think I might well use it myself (especially with the grandchildren being of the age when they know the rules of grammar exist, but don't always apply them correctly, especially the younger one).

  5. An off-topic but not a peeve: are you sure that spur of the moment is originally BrE, except in the sense that all inherited terms are? The OED's quotations are all British except the last, from Mario Puzo, but the entry for spur hasn't been updated yet. Google Ngrams shows the same curve, starting around 1820 and peaking in 1920, for both the British and the American book corpora.

    1. I'm not sure. I didn't have it originally, checked OED and added it, thinking 'I don't do enough to show that BrE stuff spreads too'. But it was a risky move. I'll take it back out. Thanks for the n-gramming!

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  7. Joe, I most certainly can write about language without agonising over the minutiae of typography. Language is communication. Punctuation has little to do with communication, and typography even less.

    And I most certainly do understand line breaks. But the breaks you see when composing a post in Blogger are not necessarily the breaks that appear when the post is published — by which time it's too late to edit. OK you can do a sort of edit by copying, reposting and deleting. But this involves tedious (and often tricky) reformatting. This is sometimes with the effort, but not for something as trivial as a stranded hyphen. Everybody understood what I intended — even you And I find it hard to believe that many others were offended. So I'll just apologise to you personally.

    What I don't understand is your reference to 'a failed en dash'. As for two hyphens, I never use them myself for any sort of dash, but I have nothing against those who do. (I think I may have used two hyphens in the distant past, but now I type what my Apple keyboard allows.)


      this is sometime with the effort

      should b

      this is sometimes worth the effort

      This is my spellchecker 'correctin'g things as usual. I didn't spot it because the Blogger Preview function wasn't working.

    2. I assume Joe was talking about me, not you. I'm happy to take criticism. I'm not happy to take it in that tone, so the comment is being deleted.

    3. I think it may've been both of us, Lynne.

      Me for the stranded hyphen in - NEW PARA ousness.

      You for the double hyphens.

      Aha! It may have been only you. You perpetrated a- NEW PARA gonna. How can you live with yourself? [Do I really have to signal irony?]

    4. Whether there's a stranded hyphen will depend on the sizing of your window. When I look at this on my computer, there are no stranded hyphens for either of us.

      I use -- on blogger because I get an en-dash no matter what I type. Here's me doing an en-dash in blogger: –. Here's an em-dash: —. Same thing. I want an em-dash, not an en-dash, so I do it the old-fashioned typing way.

      Tbh, I was resigned to having stranded hyphens, because Blogger does not accept the same short-cuts that I use for non-breaking ones in Word. I've found a cut-&-paste solution: https://css-tricks.com/forums/topic/prevent-word-breaks/

      But you know what? I have a book deadline at the end of next month. This is a blog. Unpaid work on a Saturday morning deserves less fuss than publication. The hyphens will probably stay as they are for the time being. (Will check out the hard return you mention though.)

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    6. Whoaa!!! The en-dash and em-dash look different in draft and published versions. Seriously, those were the same thing in draft! This is a game-changer. (Maybe. Maybe not.)

    7. I love the em-dash — for online 'prose', that is. So I used to go to some trouble to copy and paste one. Ditto for bullets. But then I discovered the hidden joys of the Apple keyboard.

      Holding one or two extra keys, I can type in en-dash, em-dash, bullet and various other symbols I never use. Is the PC keyboard really so inferior to the Apple?

      (I've no idea whether the Apple board will type a non-breaking hyphen.)

    8. Lynne, I've found a site which offers the following tips:

      – Hold ALT and type 0150
      — Hold ALT and type 0151

      The Windows keyboard proves indeed to be inferior to Apple when it come to symbols. They seem to be more concerned with shortcut functions.

    9. Somebody on this site
      has found a way of typing non-breaking hyphens.

      It looks rather fussy to set up — possibly not worth the effort.

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  8. different in form to the -ous adjective.

    You've gone native, Lynn!

    1. Ha! Will update with BrE/AmE options. Well caught!

  9. Tom Goodwillie26 March, 2017 23:18

    Only slightly off-topic: Is it true that "rigor" and "rigiditas" both go all the way back to the ancient Romans? And if so, was there any semantic distinction between them?

    1. Tom, the OED confirms that both rigor and rigiditas were used in Classical Latin. Both denoted the physical property of not being bendable and a range of figurative extensions. The one difference they point to is that in Latin as used in Norman Britain — long after the ancient Romans — rigiditas was used in writing to mean 'severity'.

  10. I'm surprised nobody mentioned enormity vs enormousness yet. That seems to be a common peeve, though I don't know if there is a transatlantic difference. I've personally never encountered the "correct" use of enormity in real life.

    1. The OED lists several uses of enormity — most of them obsolete.

      The only senses they represent as normal are

      2.a. Deviation from moral or legal rectitude. In later use influenced by enormous adj. 3: Extreme or monstrous wickedness.

      2. b. concr. A breach of law or morality; a transgression, crime; in later use, a gross and monstrous offence.

      The only senses that compares with enormousness are

      †3.a. Excess in magnitude; hugeness, vastness. Obs.; recent examples might perh. be found, but the use is now regarded as incorrect.

      3. b.concr. Something enormous. (humorous.)

      This entry hasn't been revised since the first edition of 1891, so the comment on sense 3A being regarded as incorrect (and obsolete) may no longer hold.

    2. Wasn't a lot of the peeving about enormity just post-9/11, when people were saying the word should have been "magnitude"?

    3. To add to the OED data, I've checked GloWBE to compare the frequencies of enormity and enormousness across the pond. "Enormity" occurs marginally more often in BrE than AmE, but "enormousness" was equally uncommon in both BrE and AmE -- it was most common in the Philippines and Sri Lanka.

    4. I think you need to split enormity into different . That's what Oxford Dictionaries Online does. They give eighteen quotations from their data base to support the sense

      1 (the enormity of) mass noun The great or extreme scale, seriousness, or extent of something perceived as bad or morally wrong.
      Starting with
      ‘Even two months later, the enormity of the crime has not totally sunk in.’

      and only seven quotes for sense

      1.1 (in neutral use) large size or scale.

      Starting with
      ‘I began to get a sense of the enormity of the task’

      plus six quotes for sense

      2 A grave crime or sin.

      Staring with
      ‘the enormities of war’

      Enormousness is used in only one sense. They support it with five quotes. Staring with
      ‘She hadn't realized the enormousness of her responsibility.’

      They list synonyms for enormity in its three senses. For only one of the senses enormousness is listed but marked as rare.

      There's also a clear — and, I think sensible — usage note
      Enormity traditionally means ‘the extreme scale or seriousness of something bad or morally wrong’, as in residents of the town were struggling to deal with the enormity of the crime. Today, however, a more neutral sense as a synonym for hugeness or immensity, as in he soon discovered the enormity of the task, is common. Some people regard this use as wrong, arguing that enormity in its original sense meant ‘a crime’ and should therefore continue to be used only of contexts in which a negative moral judgement is implied. Nevertheless, the sense is now broadly accepted in standard English, although it generally relates to something difficult, such as a task, challenge, or achievement.

      Oxford Dictionaries Online entries seem to be improving quite quickly — unlike the slow revision of the OED. But still they don't offer alternative quotes for British English and American. Perhaps this will come.

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  12. Lynne, sorry to get a wee bit off-topic here, but I love the comments on your blog. There's a dedicated community of good-natured, friendly readers with (most importantly) a sense of humour. On other blogs there's a lot of groupthink and no stepping out of line from the blogger's opinion, but here there's space for polite disagreement.

  13. I (AmE) have mainly heard "enormity" to mean great evil. A few years back on his "Ten Minutes Past Deadline" blog, Ed Latham had a good discussion about the hazard of using "enormity" (or, really, any word with widely divergent meanings) when the context doesn't make the meaning clear. https://tenminutespastdeadline.wordpress.com/2014/09/11/big-problem/

  14. As a bit of fun--one of the BrE users of tenaciousness on GloWbE questions it with "(if that's even a word!).

  15. The OED lists two senses of tenaciousness — equated to two of their three senses of tenacity.

    The first sense is a quality of liquids rather than of people. The second send is supported by four quotations, three apparently from British authors but this from Thomas Jefferson:

    What I learn of the temper of my countrymen and their tenaciousness of money.

  16. I use both ferociousness and ferocity, but for different things. A person who perpetrated a ferocious attack has, to me, the quality of ferociousness, while the attack had the quality of ferocity. I feel very strongly about this, but could not tell you why. (American millenial from New England.)

    1. The quotes given in Oxford Dictionaries Online broadly support you, Veronica.

      All the quotes for ferociousness relate to humans:

      ‘The battle to save the environment, if there is to be a successful one, will require extreme ferociousness and bravery coupled with extreme strategic intelligence.’
      ‘Listening to the music now, or any time in the last ten or fifteen years, I am overwhelmed by the lack of ferociousness that I used to associate with the album.’
      ‘His forehead was permanently wrinkled and his eyes always in a scowl, portraying his constant ferociousness and controlling behavior.’
      ‘There was a ferociousness in her she did not expect.’
      ‘Fur seals can look adorable, but have grown a reputation on board for ferociousness.’

      Many of the quotes for ferocity (though not all) relate to non-human events like attack:

      ‘Never listen to those who warn that ferocity on our part reduces us to the level of the terrorist.’
      ‘The largely unreported clashes that ensued were of exceptional ferocity.’
      ‘That night a wind-storm of unexpected ferocity gathered over the island.’
      ‘Then I set about it with such ferocity that in minutes it lay in pieces.’
      ‘Sandstorms are hardly novel in Beijing, but the sheer ferocity of these tempests was.’
      ‘Any idea of separating the careers of prosecutor and judge was attacked with ferocity.’
      ‘An album that finally demonstrates that ferocity and intelligence coexist beautifully.’
      ‘The students' warning is loud and clear, but it has lost its former ferocity and urgency.’
      ‘This power, we learn, has been asserted with ferocity over the past five decades.’
      ‘They will fight with a ferocity, a determination, and a skill, that will astound us.’
      ‘Found in the third century BC, the crocodile was respected by the Egyptians for its power and ferocity.’
      ‘And the frequency and ferocity of the current crop of storms is truly terrifying.’
      ‘Asked about why this issue was so close to her heart, the full ferocity of her anger really takes off.’
      ‘All the way down from Glasgow there is a downpour of such ferocity that I fear for my life.’
      ‘The ferocity of the seas and winds however, meant that the rescue was far from straightforward.’
      ‘Back then, his face had been firm and strong and his bright amber eyes had had a ferocity to them that could be intimidating but also very warm.’
      ‘The sheer ferocity of its will would appear to preclude compromise.’
      ‘Yet we do need some sort of violent metaphor to bring home the length, ferocity and success of the campaign.’
      ‘The ferocity of that effort almost reduced the woodwork to rubble.’
      ‘Today for most they are a faded memory; yet at the time, the battle was bloody and fought with great ferocity.’

      It's significant that there are very many more quotes for ferocity.

  17. Here's some valuable, late-breaking, 100% serious, totally on-topic material for you!

    Anyone watching UK kids TV in the mid-80s will almost certainly remember The Family Ness, a cartoon about a whole load of different "Nessies" befriended by some children living next to Loch Ness. The majority of these had names formed by (see, totally on topic!) sticking "Ness" on the end of some adjective, as shown in the opening titles.

    Family Ness titles on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xaCzbqdFS24

    Here's a list of all of them on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Family-Ness#Nessies

    I've just blown my mind by discovering that the pirate one in the titles was actually called "Eyewit-Ness" (which sounds like the producers' name brainstorming session wasn't quite fruitful enough), I always thought it was "Pirate Ness" (he is a pirate...). Most of them are better than that, although not sure about "Lil Ness", perhaps she was just little?

  18. Guardian crossword blogger Alan Connor appears to correct interviewee Mick Hodgekin's (aka Morph/Micawber) conciseness to concision in this post:


    However, I note that my android keyboard's inbuilt spellchecker offered conciseness for my mistyping, concoseness.

    1. I see a parallel with ferociousness/ferocity (see above).

      Conciseness (like ferociousness) refers to the human activity, so that's the word the setter uses.

      Concision (like ferocity) refers to the product of that activity, so that's the word the solver-enthusiast uses.

    2. I only realised after posting this that it's not an -ous word, but it's the same phenomenon, isn't it? (My, old,) Chambers also gives preciseness as a general noun form under precise, with a separate header for precision.

  19. It's been nearly a month since I've posted here because I'm in the FINAL STRETCH before my 30 April book deadline. But as I write and rewrite the conclusion, I found myself typing the word 'precariousness' and then wondering 'is someone going to fault me for that one'?

  20. Well, the OED doesn't recognise *precariosity and I'm not sure what else you could form from precocious.

    But you're in good company, from the seventeenth century

    Having evinced the Precariousness of the Origenian Hypothesis from the Nature of the thing it self..I hope 'tis sufficient to convince your self..that..this is the first Stage upon which the Souls of men ever appeared.

    to contemporary AS Byatt

    He was overcome by an old sense of the precariousness of his own position.

  21. There's precarity. But I think it's only used as a technical term in sociology/economics: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Precarity. It's not included in OED, and the etymology of precarious doesn't include anything close to precarity, so it's probably a latter-day backformation.

    1. Precatrity shows all the signs of having been formed in a language other than English. Words in ‑arious are reasonable common in English, but I can't think of a single one with a cognate in ‑arity. There's no

      *nefarity, *gregarity,,*multifarity.

      The common pair various~variety is formed differently.

      OK, I've just thought of hilarity, but no more. And I can't think of as many ‑arious words as I expected.

    2. Yes, reading the (very interesting) Wikipedia entry for precarity cited by Joel, it seems likely the word has been adopted from the French, prècarité, and/or the Italian, precarietà -- both of which are the normal noun forms from (respectively) prècaire and precario (precarious) in those languages -- for the socio-economic status described there.

  22. I realise that this is slightly off-topic, but it's on one of Lynne's regular topics of things being perceived as Americanisms when they actually aren't - and I didn't know where else to put it. I've just read a 1935 cosy murder mystery called The Santa Klaus Murder, during which the tyrannical paterfamilias (and later murder victim) insists on people using the word 'Santa Klaus' instead of 'Father Christmas', because we switched to the latter during WWI in order not to sound German and that change was now outdated. I was always told when I was little to say 'Father Christmas' because 'Santa Claus' was a horrible Americanism! So I was very interested to see this.

    1. I was curious about this, so I did a check in the wonderful British Newspaper Archive (unfortunately it requires subscription). What I found there confirms your story: in the years 1910-1915 there were more references to "Santa Claus" than "Father Christmas" in the British press, while in subsequent years of the decade this preference was reversed.

      This is somewhat ironic in that "Santa Klaus" is Dutch rather than German in origin, but I suppose if the anti-German feeling was sufficiently strong to make the Royal family change its name from Saxe-Coburg Gotha to Windsor, it's not surprising it had other linguistic effects.

  23. Forgive me if this has already been mentioned, but I haven't read all the comments yet - my grandfather used to get very annoyed by the word ''doneness' as used in instructions for roasting a turkey: 'Test for doneness'. Is 'doneness' a word used in the US?

    1. Most of the quotes in the OED seem to be American. the earliest and latest are:

      1873 Prairie Farmer 17 May 158/3 Several pans of the same agreeable edibles, in various stages of doneness, were standing around the kitchen.
      1985 N.Y. Times 9 Jan. c 6/1 Cook 5 to 10 minutes, depending on degree of doneness desired.

      But the most recent quote seems to be British

      2008 Field & Stream Sept. 48/1 To check for doneness, cut into one piece to see that the meat is medium-rare.

  24. One of the examples mentioned earlier was "covetousness" and I was surprised that nobody mentioned "cupidity". Or is that something I have made up? (50yo BrE native who's lived in US for 25 years)

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Both cupidity and covetousness derive from the Classical Latin noun cupiditas.

      In Later Latin there must have been an adjective *cupiditosus, which would have led to Old French coveitus or coveitos — which was adopted in to Middle English some time before the fourteenth century.

      All the ‑ness nouns we've discussed were formed within English by adding the suffix to an English adjective. But we never adopted cupid as an adjective.

      Oddly, there is a form taken directly from a Latin adjective derived from a cupid‑ noun. But the Latin noun is cupido, the Latin adjective cupidinosus, and the English adjective cupidinous. The English adjective is an rare word — which no doubt explains which we haven't formed a noun *cupidinousness.

      [I did wonder whether English is resistant to homophonous ‑nous and ‑ness next to each other, which led to a confused and inaccurate note, which I've deleted. In fact, English does tolerate, for example, heinousness.]

      OK, somebody in the seventeenth century coined another adjective: cupidous, from another Latin adjective cupidus. But this is the rarest of all the English cupid‑ words — and there's no evidence that it ever produced *cupidousness.

      (information from the OED)

  25. The OED entry for ‑ness is surprisingly entertaining. Having states the principal use

    Forming abstract nouns from adjectives, participles, adjectival phrases,

    they cite some nineteenth and twentieth-century coinings with less usual bases:

    The exclusive Sir-Thomas-Brown-ness of all the fancies.
    An irreproachable state of clean-shirtedness, navy blue-broadclothedness and chimney-pot-hattedness.
    Southport, with its sponge-cakeyness and school-girlism is surely worth study.
    You are a love-child moving towards art. I am an artist moving towards love-child-ness.
    The numbskulled singalong-ness of Oasis.


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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)