Thomas Doty – Storyteller
English as a Trickster Language
Just like the famously infamous trickster Coyote, the English language makes lots of rules, and then turns around and breaks them. English is Coyote's language of choice when he wants to mess with people's minds and drive even native speakers nuts!
Take the negative prefix "in." Adding it to a word reverses the meaning, as in complete and incomplete, or decisive and indecisive.
Want to mess with a friend? Ask him what the word flammable means. Then ask him what inflammable means. There's a fairly good chance that he'll say that inflammable is the opposite of flammable.
"Fairly good is a smidgen better than slim to none," quips Coyote.
But get this! Flammable and inflammable have exactly the same meaning. For years, this has been a problem for fire departments and those who write warning tags for clothing and bed sheets.
"Ready for more?" smirks Coyote. "Try this out...."
Consider the words habitable and inhabitable. Same meaning again. To make them mean the opposite, we add a SECOND negative prefix to inhabitable: uninhabitable. Crazy!
Now take the "ir" prefix, another "opposite of" prefix, as in replaceable and irreplaceable, reverent and irreverent. But what about regardless and irregardless?
"This is valuable information," muses Coyote. "Or is it invaluable?"
Isn't language fun?