Real Spellers

English Makes Sense!

Mary, a recent Study Weeker, has sent me this fascinating and productive comment that followed from her work with this net for <sci>.




For the full-size version of this net, go to Kit 3 Theme E in your TBox 2 for the full experience of the bound base <sci> of which the net is a part.


Mary's comment 

Looking over the word net for <sci> I find the following:

<pre + sci + ous> as a possible base with affixes. However, I can not justify the word <prescious>. 

I find that <precious> does not share the same base <sci> or am I missing something?



First, let me summarize what I think is taxing Mary.

  • Just as the net allows us to construct <con + sci + ousconscious>, it also allows us to construct <pre + sci + ousprescious> that would yield the pronunciation /ˈprɛʃǝs/.
  • Mary knows a word pronounced /ˈprɛʃǝs/ that has the meaning “of great value” that actually has the spelling <precious> with the grapheme <c> rather than the digraph <sc>. This spelling is structurally related to such words as <appreciate> that do not have the base element <sci>.
  • The spelling <prescious>, that also yields the pronounciation /ˈprɛʃǝs/, might appear to be a misspelling of <precious>.

So Mary knows that /ˈprɛʃǝs/ - with its base <sci> that has the orthographic denotation of “knowing” - simply can not be a valid representation of /ˈprɛʃǝs/ meaning “of great value”.

This fact may be giving rise to two assumptions:

  •  that the word net contains misleading information about the construction of a word;
  •  that there can not be a valid spelling <prescious>.

Neither assumption is defensible.

If a word sum is valid, then the construction that it relates to is mophologically valid too. 

In the construction <pre + sci + ousprescious>:

  • there is a verifiably valid base;
  • there is a verifiably valid prefix;
  • there is a verifiably valid suffix;
  • the word sum analyses and synthesizes coherently.

The resulting adjectival formation <prescious> must, then, signal a meaning such as “characterized by foreknowledge”. And this is the case whether or not anyone before Mary has ever constructed it, or used it in speech or writing. Weep, all ye ovine followers of the prescriptivist rules of Scrabble!

The fact that a word pronounced /ˈprɛʃǝs/ has the meaning “of great value” in no way precludes the possibility that it might have a homophone that, having a different meaning, would have a correspondingly different spelling.


We could terminate our investigation here. The evidence we already have of the morphological and, therefore lexical, validity of <prescious> “characterized by foreknowledge” would, in itself, be conclusive.

But we can go further. 

One of the constructions offered by our <sci> net is <omn + i + sci + entomniscient>. The suffix <-ent> can be replaced by <-ence> to construct the related lexical item <omniscience>.

And, of course, the network also allows us to construct <omniscious>, a completely valid and coherent morphological construction that signals a meaning such as “characterized by total knowledge”.

Here, I can almost hear the wailings of prescriptivist pedants objecting that “there is no such word as “omniscious”! Oh yes there is; I have just written it, it is a valid morphological construction whose meaning is evident from that structure, whether or not anyone before me has ever constructed it, or used it in speech or writing.

In any case, when I consult my dictionary I discover to my delight that not only am I not the first to have written <omniscious>, but that it is attested since 1588.




So thanks, Mary. Following your question, I shall be on the lookout for opportunities to use the two latest additions to my working lexicon: <prescious> can<omniscious>.

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