Friday, July 13, 2012

On “Finitude” and “Truthitude”

The essays actually treating of these topics may be found here and here;  indeed, they have recently been updated, so hurry and tell your friends.  The purpose of this note is simply to explain the choice of the words “finitude” and “truthitude” themselves.

Finitude is not -- as it turns out -- itself a rare word: to my surprise, it gets more Google hits than does “finiteness”.   The latter is, however, more common in mathematics, which is the milieu in which I first learned the term.  And it was with a view towards a slightly unfamiliar and former stylistic value  that I selected finitude as a title for the earlier post.   For I have noticed  that readers like to search on  exotic-looking words.  Actual examples from the Blogspot stats:

anaetiological, monostich, laplacian, apophthegms [so spelled], gematria, supraluminal, ewig weibliche, esclandre [this one’s French; but within French  it enjoys the sort of curiosa status that something like “apophthegm” does  within English], sesquipedalian, cryptomelodia,  sado-monetarism, postlapsarian, ...

are examples of some of the words that readers have googled in a successful search for this site.

PentimentoWeltschmerzThrawn.   All good words.


The case of the word truthitude, favored on this site, is similar.  The terms truthiness (a/w Stephen Colbert) and proofiness (a/w Charles Seife) were already current -- and nothing the matter with them at all.   But I wanted something sounding even more satiric.  Picture “truthitude” with both “u”s pronounced like the front-rounded vowel in French tu (as opposed to tout), and you will envision pursed lips, and an echo of ewwww….

Fact of the matter, -ness is a bland, blah, plebeian suffix.  Whereas -itude has a kind of éclat, a patrician patina, a nescio quid.  It’s clearly a suffix of some sort, but unlike the case with -ness, you seldom can strip it off to get a regular English word.  Thus none of the following would yield a free-standing English word: 

altitude, attitude, amplitude, aptitude, attitude,beatitude, certitude, gratitude, latitude, magnitude, multitude, negritude, platitude, plenitude, pulchritude, rectitude, servitude, solicitude, turpitude, verisimilitude, vicessitude.

One of the few even apparent counterexamples is decrepitude , where we spot the English word decrepit  -- ah, but not as the residuum of deleting the suffix; that operation yields merely “decrep”.   Another Scheinausnahme is longitude:  what you get after deleting the suffix is not the English (Germanic) word long, but an accidentally homographic Latin root, here with the pronunciation “lonj-“.
Indeed, the only real cases where you can strip off the -itude and get an echt English word are:  exactitude  and  promptitude.  Joined now by

truthitude ©2012  All rights reserved

brought to you by logopoeic team from Dr Justice’s award-winning wordsmithery.  Use the word proudly, and don’t forget to mail us a fiver (honor system, now) every time you do.

More on some favorite -itude words:

And for French victimitude, click here:

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