• metathesis •
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-frÍns] as differnce all reflect this proclivity.
Word History: Today's Good Word is a Late Latin noun based on the Greek verb metatithenai "to switch, transpose". This verb consists of meta "beyond, over" + tithenai "to place". Meta comes from the same source as English mid and middle, PIE medh- "middle", same source as Greek mesos "middle", and Albanian mes "middle", . Apparently, it originally meant "between", for that is the meaning of Russian mezhdu, which comes from the same word. Tithenai comes from the reduplication of an earlier form dhe-/dho- "to set, put", source of Sanskrit dadhati "s/he places" and, without reduplication, English do and deed, German tun "to do", Russian det' "to put" and delat' "to do, make", Lithuanian deti "to place", and Latin facere "to do, make".
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