December 15, 2014

Forming Plurals of Latin-derived Words

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Cactuses, cacti? Priuses, Prii? The answers are easier than you think.

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Hoist With His Own Petar
Posted by June on December 15, 2014
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I don’t know much about Shakespeare. Suffice it to say that there are some gaps in my education. So when I learn about an expression like “hoist with his own petard,” it’s usually from a “Simpsons” episode.

And it’s always fun to look up these new expressions.

Garner’s Modern American Usage has some interesting discussion on this term, which the guide describes as a Shakespearean phrase meaning “ruined by one’s own scheming against others.”

“The actual line in ‘Hamlet’ is ‘hoist with his own petar,” Garner’s says. “The form ‘petar’ is an archaic variant of ‘petard,’ meaning ‘an explosive device used in ancient warfare to blow open a gate or to breach a wall.’ Thus, ‘hoist with one’s own petard’ literally means to blow oneself into the air with one’s own bomb. In modern journalistic sources, ‘petard’ outnumbers ‘petar’ by a 66-to-1 margin. So almost every writer who uses the phrase updates Shakespeare by using ‘petard.’”

Garner’s adds that the verb "hoist" is normally “hoisted” in the past tense, but that Shakespeare used “hoist” as the past participle for the archaic verb “hoise” (to raise aloft). But by a 2-to-1 margin, modern writers update “hoist” and make it "hoisted.”

Also, there’s some controversy about whether the preposition is “with” or “by.” Shakespeare’s was “with,” “but ‘by’ now preponderates by a 4-to-1 margin,” Garner’s reports.

Summing up, Garner’s says, “Almost every contemporary writer who uses this popular phrase misquotes Shakespeare in some way and it would be pedantic to insist on ‘hoist with his own petar.’ The usual renderings are ‘hoist with his own petard’ and ‘hoisted by his own petard.’ Some preference might be given to the first of those. But because the second is nearly four times as common, it shouldn’t be labeled incorrect."

June Casagrande is a writer and journalist whose weekly grammar/humor column, “A Word, Please,” appears in community newspapers in California, Florida, and Texas. more

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