July 11, 2005

Lexical reversal

Substitution of ancestor for descendant or vice versa is well known, and people occasionally say yesterday when they mean tomorrow or vice versa. Add to these and similar examples: subsequent for prior:

The days subsequent to Kurt Kobain's apparent suicide in April 1994 have been a constant source of mystery and speculation. In indie film provocateur Gus Van Sant's latest film, Last Days, the director fictionalizes those days...(Jared Abbott, "Seeking Nirvana", Genre of July 2005, p. 18)

Some prescriptivists deprecate both subsequent and prior -- see Merriam Webster's Dictionary of English Usage -- on the grounds that they are highfalutin' latinisms deployed when honest Anglo-Saxon after and before would do as well. I don't necessarily subscribe to that, but I do think that if you're going to use latinisms, you should pick the right one.

zwicky at-sign csli period stanford period edu

Posted by Arnold Zwicky at July 11, 2005 01:38 AM