2011-06-06

Hysterical Adjectives

We have positives, comparatives and superlatives, but in only one direction. Unless there's a specific other adjective for the opposite direction (a negative, corresponding to the ordinary adjective as the positive form) then we're stuck with plonking less and least to form an adjective's negative comparative and superlative respectively. This is very boring. We need something akin to the -er and -est affixes in the other direction. Then we can get rid of the clunky more and most too. All adjectives shall henceforth be compared and superled(1) with -er and -est, and (if I have my way) negatively so with -el and -ent.

Thus the positive boring would have the comparative boringer and superlative boringest. Negatively, instead of saying less boring, we'd just say boringel - it's quicker (for excitinger of course). And excitingest and boringent would mean the same thing, superlatively.

The only thing you'd have to watch out for is that although a positive superlative pretty much must have the same meaning as its corresponding negative sublative(2) (least fast and slowest mean the same thing) it's not necessarily the case that less fast and slower mean, in a particular context, the same thing. Indeed it would be surprising if they did because - obviously - the positive and the negative adjectives (in this case slow and fast) mean the exact opposite of each other.

Hysteresis

So we have a spot of hysteresis going on in the semantic space here. Here's a diagram showing what I mean (using the 'canonical' adjectives good and bad, but in principal any positive adjective and its corresponding negative would serve). The two cusps (the pointy bits, for non-engineers) are where the meanings coincide, regardless of how you got there. But on the way, there's a bit of space for imprecision, depending which way round you go.

The area inside the loop represents a loss of some kind of 'semantic energy' I suppose, but I don't know what the hell that is.


(1) That's not pronounced super-led, it's soup-earl-d.

(2) The sublative is of course the superlative in the other direction.

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