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Words March 2

by and


Most hurdlers are trim:

“For different reasons, liberals and conservatives and interest groups across the political spectrum have united to defeat the bill by setting up procedural hurtles.”

“I was in an accident in the summer of 2004. I got forced off the road, and my car overturned down an embankment. I crawled out none the worse for wear, save the abrasions across my chest and shoulder from the seat belt’s working overtime like a champ to corral my hurdling and ample girth.”

It should be hurdles in the first case and hurtling in the second.

“Prohibited conduct cannot be legitimatized by indirect collective activity.”

A reader comments: “As much as I applaud the judge’s opinion in the matter, it saddens me to see such neologisms legitimized — literally — in the form of an actual precedent in law, subject to citation, repetition and perpetuation.” The “neologism” he refers to is legitimatize. He continues: “Even legitimize is fairly new, having displaced the earlier legitimate (the verb with a long ‘a’, not the adjective), whose passage into oblivion I mourn. He was a true heir of the language of classical Rome, unlike his later bastardized siblings, however legitimated they may feel.”

All three verbs are listed in Random House, and the reader is correct in saying that legitimate is the oldest. It dates from the 15th century. But legitimize and legitimatize aren’t so neo themselves. Legitimatize is actually the older of the two. It came along toward the end of the 18th century. Legitimize appeared in the middle of the 19th.

But the Cambridge Guide to English Usage says that legitimize is now the most commonly used of the three in both the USA and the UK, with legitimate in second place. Legitimatize, says CGEU, “seems to have fallen by the wayside.” I disagree, and I imagine our correspondent would too. I see legitimatize more often than I see legitimate as a verb. There’s little we can do about the passing of legitimate — which I too prefer — except, as the reader says, to mourn.

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