14 Old Abstract Nouns We Need to Bring Back


English has a few suffixes that can make abstract nouns out of adjectives. There’s the relatively rare –cy, which turns fluent into fluency and idiot into idiocy, and there’s the more common –ty or –ity that gives us certainty, subtlety, absurdity and the like. The only one that is truly productive however, able to make a noun out of almost anything in English, is –ness. We can talk about hunky-doryness, pumped-upness or even lolwhutness without too much awkwardness. In the past couple of decades the –ty ending has acquired a certain amount of productivity in words like bogosity or awesomosity, but the productive use of ty has a more humorous effect than –ness, which has to do with the fact that –ty comes to English through Latin and French influence and carries overtones of, shall we say, pretentiosity, ostentatiosity, and ridiculosity.

These –ty coinages have a slangy, modern ring to them but English speakers have actually been trying to make –ty happen for centuries. There are a number of old abstract nouns in the Oxford English Dictionary that, for whatever reason, and tragically, became obsolete. Here are 14 of them we need to bring back.

1. Debonairity: Old French had debonaireté and English took it to make debonairity. Why we ever lost this one, I cannot say.

2. Earnesty: used a bit in the 16th century for earnestness.

3. Enviousty: The OED gives only one example from the 14th century. It might have done better as enviosity.

4. Fewty: An obsolete Scottish term for just what it says “the condition of being few.”

5. Fiercety: First citation 1382, and while fierceness had an edge from the beginning, fiercety continued to show up occasionally in examples like “The Northyn wynde blewe with suche fyerste” (1513).

6. Graciosity: From the French gracieuseté. Graciousness is nice, but graciosity is nicer.

7. Heavity: We’ve got levity, so why not heavity? Chaucer liked it.

8. Nervosity: It certainly sounds more nervous than nervousness. This one was used more in the sense of neuroticism. In the words of psychologist Willam James (1890), “There is no real evidence that physical refinement and nervosity tend to accumulate from generation to generation in aristocratic or intellectual families.”

9. Outrageousty: So much more outrageous than outrageousness. Too bad it fell out of use after the 15th century.

10. Rigorosity: Is your English department known for its rigorosity? Then they should be familiar with this word.

11. Rudity: All the better to rhyme with crudity. Use this one to poetify your rants.

12. Seemlity: You already sound a bit fancy if you use the word seemliness. Just imagine how much fancier you’ll sound if you use seemlity instead.

13. Seriosity: You can use this one in all seriosity … but people might laugh.

14. Terribility: Terribleness is a pretty bad quality to have, but terribility? That’s terrifying.

Big Questions
Where Should You Place the Apostrophe in President's Day?

Happy Presidents’ Day! Or is it President’s Day? Or Presidents Day? What you call the national holiday depends on where you are, who you’re honoring, and how you think we’re celebrating.

Saying "President’s Day" infers that the day belongs to a singular president, such as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, whose birthdays are the basis for the holiday. On the other hand, referring to it as "Presidents’ Day" means that the day belongs to all of the presidents—that it’s their day collectively. Finally, calling the day "Presidents Day"—plural with no apostrophe—would indicate that we’re honoring all POTUSes past and present (yes, even Andrew Johnson), but that no one president actually owns the day.

You would think that in the nearly 140 years since "Washington’s Birthday" was declared a holiday in 1879, someone would have officially declared a way to spell the day. But in fact, even the White House itself hasn’t chosen a single variation for its style guide. They spelled it “President’s Day” here and “Presidents’ Day” here.

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Maybe that indecision comes from the fact that Presidents Day isn’t even a federal holiday. The federal holiday is technically still called “Washington’s Birthday,” and states can choose to call it whatever they want. Some states, like Iowa, don’t officially acknowledge the day at all. And the location of the punctuation mark is a moot point when individual states choose to call it something else entirely, like “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day” in Arkansas, or “Birthdays of George Washington/Thomas Jefferson” in Alabama. (Alabama loves to split birthday celebrations, by the way; the third Monday in January celebrates both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert E. Lee.)

You can look to official grammar sources to declare the right way, but even they don’t agree. The AP Stylebook prefers “Presidents Day,” while Chicago Style uses “Presidents’ Day.”

The bottom line: There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Go with what feels right. And even then, if you’re in one of those states that has chosen to spell it “President’s Day”—Washington, for example—and you use one of the grammar book stylings instead, you’re still technically wrong.

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Here's the Right Way to Pronounce Kitchenware Brand Le Creuset

If you were never quite sure how to pronounce the name of beloved French kitchenware brand Le Creuset, don't fret: For the longest time, southern chef, author, and PBS personality Vivian Howard wasn't sure either.

In this video from Le Creuset, shared by Food & Wine, Howard prepares to sear some meat in her bright orange Le Creuset pot and explains, "For the longest time I had such a crush on them but I could never verbalize it because I didn’t know how to say it and I was so afraid of sounding like a big old redneck." Listen closely as she demonstrates the official, Le Creuset-endorsed pronunciation at 0:51.

Le Creuset is known for its colorful, cast-iron cookware, which is revered by pro chefs and home cooks everywhere. The company first introduced their durable pots to the world in 1925. Especially popular are their Dutch ovens, which are thick cast-iron pots that have been around since the 18th century and are used for slow-cooking dishes like roasts, stews, and casseroles.

[h/t Food & Wine]


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