Saturday, March 10, 2007

To revivify or condemn

Listen to this article
Listen to this article

Over at Language Log, folks are wondering aprint (here and here) how prescriptivist rules get formulated in the first place. What moves a usage raven maven to take umbrage at something that has seemed perfectly innocuous to generations of English speakers?

Well, the other day, I came across revivify in a long but fascinating NYT Magazine article. I had never seen the word before and read it \ri-ˈvīvə-ˌ\ instead of the correct \rē-ˈvi-və-ˌfī\. My reflex reaction was "what a silly and pointless neologism! What's wrong with revive?". But a quick search of the dictionary, reveals it's nothing of the sort.

While revive is older (circa 1400), revivify is attested from 1665. Moreover, English speakers have been able to vivify something (another new word for me) since 1535. That's a trick that revive can't do. And while both revive and revivify mean bring back to life, revivify seems to have a link to vivid that revive is simply lacking. Still, revivify is fairly rare, appearing almost never in speech and only about once every 10 million words in print.

So, here I am at a crossroads. Do I abashedly admit that I was ignorant and unobservant and welcome revivify into my vocabulary, or do I try to save face by condemning it as a mere florid redundancy? The second choice, pathetic though it is, may be one possible avenue by which language items fall into disrepute.


Anonymous said...

Great anecdote, but it would be simpler to understand if you used the standard IPA notation for your pronunciations.

As it stands, I think I've worked out how you're saying you mispronounced the word, but I can't be 100% sure...

Brian C. Hagerty said...

These words aren't really synonyms. You can "revive" an unconscious person; you cannot "revivify" him until he's slipped past unconsciousness to death.