Thursday, September 3, 2009

Height v. Heighth

Words that are not actually words drive me nuts. I’m not talking about useful made-up words like “janky” (which means “crappy”) or “trotch” (an excellent swear word). Those kind of words are fine. The ones that bother me are those common slips you hear frequently that are either a massacre of the accepted form of the word or (in the case of today’s word) are simply obsolete versions. Specifically, two that have been bothering me lately are heighth and verbage. Today we’ll discuss the former.

Listen people! “Heighth” is NOT A WORD. And neither is “hidth,” if you’re inclined to spell it that way. Get this through your heads. Yes, it is true that wide becomes width and deep becomes depth, but that doesn’t mean when we discuss the height of an object we need to mention its heighth. Watch this:

wide/narrow -> width
deep/shallow -> depth
broad/narrow -> breadth
long/short -> length
high/low -> HEIGHT

There just isn’t another H, and that’s because the word “height” is already on the right hand side of the nifty table above. That is to say, it is already a noun. Unlike its compadres, who need to end in H in order to move from left to right, high gets to be special by trading the “th” for an “ht.” Do you really want to be the one to make height feel less special? No. I didn’t think so.

Now, to be fair, heighth was an acceptable form (indeed, the proper form) all the way up to the 19th century. And it is still used frequently enough that I suppose it isn’t exactly an abomination to run around discussing the ever-growing heighth of your eldest son. Plus, languages change all the time, right? What harm is it to revert back to an antiquated form?

All fairly valid points. But, much like the Cro-Magnons chose not to revert back into Neanderthals, we should embrace this modern era and speak like we belong in such. Height is so much easier to pronounce than heighth—why make more work for ourselves?

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