Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Tue Aug 26 17:53:09 UTC 2008

At 12:53 PM -0400 8/26/08, Mark Mandel wrote:
>On Mon, Aug 25, 2008 at 11:09 PM, Laurence Horn
><laurence.horn at yale.edu> wrote:
>>  But it's hard to imagine "akilter" as involving the Greek privative
>>  prefix; the Greek derivation gets the morphology/etymology wrong,
>>  while the Old English adverbial a- prefix seems right for the
>>  morphology but gets the semantics backward.  If I were Jerry Cohen
>>  (and perhaps even if I weren't), I'd suggest a blend of "askew" with
>>  "(out of) kilter".  There is actually a family of similar descriptive
>>  terms with meanings in the same family--"astray", "askance",
>>  etc.--and maybe they did somehow attract "akilter" to their perverse
>>  ways.
>Oh, sure, the poster was off-target on "alpha privative". (That wasn't
>my comment, it was part of a reply in the source.)

I realized that.  But it's actually an interestingly subtle puzzle.
I'm wondering whether the formation and analysis of "akilter" as
negative/privative through influence of akimbo, awry, askew, astray,
etc. (all of course involving the OE adverbial a- rather than the
Greek privative) is parallel in a way to what happens with un-verbs,
where the effect is to assure a negative ("helping entropy along")
meaning whether through reversing a goal-oriented base  ("unfreeze",
"untighten") or redundantly reinforcing a source-oriented base
("unthaw", "unloosen").  Similarly with these a- adjectives, the
meaning ends up approximating 'a bit off', whether by reinforcing the
base ("akimbo", "awry", etc.) or reversing it ("akilter").  The fact
that "kilter" is so rare itself doesn't hurt.


>  ISTM that "awry" is
>an especially good fit for a semantic (mis)model.
>Mark Mandel
>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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