Daily Archives: February 17, 2009


Does this word look to you like it’s missing an st at the beginning? Or, if you’re thinking of business, say shipping, an m? Or does it seem like a name for a precious stone? Or a girl? Or a theological disposition? All are definite overtones, and you may be led to agonize over the actual meaning of the word. It may not help you to know that this word is not a verb – it’s a noun and an adjective. It comes from Latin ad “to” and gnasci “be born,” which is from gen “beget.” Notice how the e dropped out of the root? This is called the “zero grade” of the gen root. It gives it that blocked-nose gn pairing, a bit of an ugly couple, to my eyes and tongue, anyway. You see it also in cognate, which is not about cognition – cognate words are words that come from the same origin (English hound and German Hund, for instance). Cognate is used outside of linguistics to mean “descended from a common ancestor.” So is agnate, but the difference is that agnate means specifically “descended from a common male ancestor.” So half-siblings sharing the same father are agnate, but half-siblings sharing the same mother aren’t. Agnate is also used in linguistics (and elsewhere) to mean “akin” or “of the same nature”; syntactically, for instance, two sentences are agnates of each other if they say essentially the same thing in different form: Jack saw the dog; The dog was seen by Jack. (By this explanation is your lexical anagnorisis achieved!)

Among other things, it’s a sentence adverb

A colleague asked whether “among other things” in a sentence such as the following is a dangler:

Among other things, this book explores the concept of silliness.

Continue reading