• metathesis •
Pronunciation: mê-tæ-thê-sis • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass
Meaning: 1. (Linguistics) The switching of one sound or letter in a word with another. 2. (Chemistry) A chemical reaction between two compounds in which parts of each are interchanged to form two new compounds.
Notes: Today's rather technical linguistic word comes replete with all the derivational forms we need. We have our choice of metathetic or metathetical for the adjective, and -ly may be added to the latter for the adverb: metathetically. The verb is a predictable metathesize, as two sounds might metathesize in a word. The biggest pitfall to avoid is the confusion of this word with the medical term, metastasis "movement or spread (of a disease or pain)".
In Play: Linguistic metathesis most often involves R and L, the "liquid" consonants: flimsy was created from filmsy by metathesis. When we say perogative for prerogative or perscription for prescription, we commit metathesis, switching the positions of the R and E. In some dialects of English ask is metathesized to aks and another common speech error is the pronunciation of foliage as foilage, switching the L and the I. Keep your ears pealed! Southerners love metathesis: their pronunciations of pretty as perty, and difference [di-frêns] as differnce all reflect this proclivity.
Word History: Today's Good Word is a Late Latin noun based on the Greek verb metatithenai "to transpose". This verb consists of meta "beyond, over" + tithenai "to place". Meta comes from the same source as English mid and middle. Apparently, it originally meant "between", for that is the meaning of Russian mezhdu, which comes from the same word. Tithenai comes from an earlier form dhe-ti-, the source of English deed and do plus the suffix -ty. (For more about metathesis, see the Ohio State Metathesis Page).