Date: Wed, 22 Apr 1998 12:51:34 -0500
From: Mark Mandel
Subject: (in)flammable

Victoria Neufeldt writes:
Probably any native speaker of English would understand 'inflammable' correctly,
but there is a distinct possibility that a
non-native speaker could misinterpret the 'in-' as a negative prefix, since that
is by far the more common use of this
element; and because the consequences of misinterpretation are potentially
lethal, it is important to use an unambiguous
form, such as 'flammable,' for all public labels. This "campaign," which isn't
just Australian, but at least North American
(both Canada and US) and British as well, does seem to have been successful.
Even in everyday language,
'inflammable' is not nearly as common as it used to be.

I'm not nearly as confident as Victoria is about "any native speaker of
English". In general, negative "in-" is much more
common than inchoative (or any other) "in-"; and in specific, the very success
that she speaks of in the last two
sentences quoted makes it more likely that "inflammable" will be interpreted as
productively derived from "flammable", and
therefore with the more frequent negative "in-".

Mark A. Mandel : Senior Linguist : mark[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]
Dragon Systems, Inc. : speech recognition : +1 617 796-0267
320 Nevada St., Newton, MA 02160, USA :
Personal home page: