Fiercety, Seriosity, Debonairity: 14 Abstract Nouns We Need to Bring Back

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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.

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April 3, 2014 - 5:00pm
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