Real Spellers

English Makes Sense!

Gail has been using Neil Ramsden’s Word Microscope to investigate <err> and its derivations. Here’s a draft matrix (not in the Word Microscope format) that Gail has constructed.




In the mail that contained this matrix, Gail comments, “I'm wondering about <ne> as a possible suffix in <erroneous>, and <extraneous>,” with a view to including <err + o + ne + ous> in her bank of word sums from which the matrix is constructed.

Here I’ll just offer some suggestions to resource Gail’s continuing sleuthing. 

The first observation to make is that the etymons of both <erroneous> and <extraneous> are Latin, whose connecting vowel letters are <i>, <u> and - as apparently in the case of these two words - <e>; the connecting vowel letter <o> is a signal of a Greek origin.

Secondly, there is possibly - probably even - a suffix <-ne> in <done> and <gone>, but that <e> is neither syllabic nor Latinate. (Contact Real Spelling directly if you would like a copy of a tutorial film on this subject).

Now the root of <err> is the Latin verb <err(are)> “wander, stray, rove, lose the way”. That orthographic denotation suits the base <err> of Gail’s matrix of the English word family; when you make an error or are erratic you have lost your way and wandered of the point.

When we check the root of <erroneous> we find that in Latin itself, there was a noun cognate of the verb <err(are)>; it was <erron(em)> “vagabond”. This noun itself had the adjectival derivation <erroneus> “wandering about, straying”.

So, strictly speaking, we could just regard <erron(em)> as the etymon of <erroneous>. And in that case, we might conclude that it is not  best placed in a ModE matrix for <err>.

One might, though, postulate a suffix <-one> that might give <err + one/ + e ous>.




Again, though, this suffix <-one> is not Latinate, and is a modern coining in the scientific register. At the best it can only be considered highly unlikely.

So, on with the investigation - Gail has a nose for a fruitful quest!

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