I learned a new word today

I don’t learn a new word all that often, so I always enjoy it as much as possible when it happens.

Medical and other jargon excluded, of course. I mean regular words. Today’s word:


It’s clear where it comes from, or at least I immediately see parallels between this and words like “perchlorate,” in which the “per-” is essentially short for “hyper-” and is therefore an intensifying prefix that means “more.”

So if “fervid” means “intensely passionate about something,” I guess “perfervid” must mean “excessively over-the-top passionate about something.” Which is indeed the case.

It’s not that attractive a word, though. That “per-fer-” repeats the -er- sound, which is not aesthetically pleasing. This is a word I’m actually more likely to drop into casual conversation for the fun of it, rather than using in a novel. If I did use it in a novel, it’d be SF, not high fantasy. The word sounds all wrong for high fantasy, though “fervid” is fine.

Did you all know the word “perfervid” already?

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8 thoughts on “I learned a new word today”

  1. Yes. It is reminiscent of ‘inflammable’, arguably the most dangerously confusing word of all time. That said, ‘perflammable’ would be a much, much better construction all around, since ‘flammable’ logically applies to anything that’ll burn, not just stuff that burns easily and violently.

  2. Pete, you are so right! I hereby declare that everyone should immediately stop saying “inflammable,” retire the word completely, and refer to things only as “not flammable,” “flammable,” and “perflammable.”

  3. But there are so many words starting with in- meaning not-: incoherent, ineligible, inanimate, impervious and improvident (though the n changed to m for the ease of pronounciation, it’s still the in- prefix), inalienable, insolvent, etcetera, words both old and in common use today. Why pick only on inflammable?

    Yes, I’d seen perfervid once or maybe twice before, and didn’t like it. Fervid is already fervent, a strong and somewhat over-the-top sort of emotion. Piling per- onto that is doubling the over-the-topness, and sounds stupid, in both the content and the sound.

  4. Hanneke–
    Because inflammable actually means “burns easily and violently”, a la “inflamed” and “inflammation.”

  5. Wow, Pete, I’ve always thought it mrant the opposite! That’s good to have clarified!
    Then I completely agree that it’s stupidly confusing!

  6. “Per-” is a Latin prefix, and “hyper-“ is Greek. From the OED:

    per-, prefix
      Stress is usually determined by a subsequent element and vowels may be reduced accordingly.
    Forms:  ME– per-, 17– pre-.
    Origin: A borrowing from Latin. Etymon: Latin per-.
    Etymology: < classical Latin per-, combining form of per , preposition (see per prep.). For chief senses of classical Latin per-, and examples, see sense sections below.
    The chief uses in English reflect those in Latin.
    Classical Latin compounds with per- have descendants in all Romance languages. In French, the reflex is often par- ; par- also occasionally acts as a prefix forming words within Middle French, but no longer in modern French. For resulting variation in English see e.g. parfit , variant of perfect adj., partene , variant of pertain v.
    The earliest examples in English come from words borrowed from French in the late 13th and early 14th centuries (e.g. perish v., perfect adj., perform v.); loans directly from Latin appear in the 15th cent. (see e.g. perplex adj.). The earliest uses of the combining form in formations within English date from the late 15th and early 16th centuries (e.g. perexcellently adv., perfix v., peradvertence n.).
    Several early borrowings from French have variants in par- up to the 16th cent. in English and also in Older Scots, even if no such variants are attested in French (e.g. perceive v., perdition n., perpetual adj.). It is possible that unattested French forms underly these; no such variation occurs in native formations.
    Forming compounds with verbs, adjectives, and their derivatives.
     1. As an etymological element. With the senses:
      a. Forming words with the sense ‘through, in space or time; throughout, all over’: with verbs and their derivatives, as classical Latin perambulāre to walk through, perambulate v., perforāre to bore through, perforate v., pervadere to go through, pervade v., pervigilāre to watch through, pervigilate v., etc.; forming adjectives, as pervius having a way through (see pervious adj.), etc.
      b. Forming words with the sense ‘thoroughly, completely, to completion, to the end’: with verbs and derivatives, as classical Latin perficere to do thoroughly, complete (see perfect v.), permūtāre to change throughout or completely, permute v., perpetrāre perpetrate v., perturbāre perturb v., etc.; so also peruse v.
     c. Forming words with the sense ‘away entirely, to destruction, to the bad’: with verbs and derivatives, as classical Latin perdere to do away with, destroy, lose (see perdition n.), perīre to go to destruction, perish v., pervertere to turn away evilly, pervert v., perimere to take away entirely, destroy, annihilate (see peremptory adj.), etc.
     d. Forming words with the sense ‘thoroughly, perfectly, extremely, very’: with adjectives and adverbs, as classical Latin peracūtus very sharp, peracute adj., perdīligēns very diligent, perdiligent adj., post-classical Latin perfervidus, perfervid adj., etc. Formerly also in English with derived nouns (or their analogues), in sense ‘very great’, ‘extreme’: see e.g. perdiligence n., peradvertence n.
     2. Chemistry.  [Compare sense 1d.] Forming nouns and adjectives denoting the maximum (or supposed maximum) proportion of the specified element or group in a chemical compound.
     a. In names of binary compounds in -ide (formerly -uret), designating that in which the element or radical combines in the largest proportion with another element, as perbromide, †perbromuret, †percyanide, and in derived verbs (cf. peroxidize v.) and adjectives (cf. percarburetted adj.).
    This use of per- was first used in peroxide (see quot. 18041 at peroxide n. 1), and was subsequently extended to combinations of other elements, as perchloride, etc., but has now largely been superseded in systematic nomenclature by methods which indicate the chemical formula more precisely, either by a numerical indication of the proportions or of the oxidation state of the electropositive element (e.g. manganese peroxide becoming manganese dioxide or manganese( iv) oxide), or by the use of a specific adjective to indicate the oxidation state of the electropositive element (e.g. iron perchloride becoming ferric chloride or iron( iii) chloride).
    hyper-, prefix
    representing Greek ὑπερ- (ὑπέρ preposition and adv., ‘over, beyond, over much, above measure’); in Greek combined adverbially with verbs, in the local sense ‘over, above, beyond’, as ὑπερβαίνειν to step over, overstep, cross, ὑπερβάλλειν to throw over or beyond; and hence in the adjectives and substantives thence derived, as ὑπερβατός going across, transposed (cf. hyperbaton n.), ὑπερβολή a throwing over or beyond, overshooting, excess, extravagance, hyperbole n., ὑπερβολικός hyperbolic adj.   Also with adjectives formed on substantive stems, implying that the thing or quality is present over or beyond the ordinary degree, as ὑπέρθῡμος over-daring, high-spirited, ὑπέρβιος of overwhelming might; and later with ordinary adjectives with the sense ‘exceedingly’, as ὑπέρμεγας immensely great, ὑπέρκαλος exceedingly beautiful. In this sense also sometimes with verbs, as ὑπεραγαπᾶν to love exceedingly, ὑπερεχθαίρειν to hate exceedingly. Also combined prepositionally with nouns, forming adjectives with the sense of lying or going beyond, surpassing, as ὑπερβόρεος that is beyond the north wind, hyperborean adj. and n., ὑπερόριος lying over the frontier, ὑπερουράνιος that is above the heavens, ὑπέρθεος more than divine, ὑπέρμετρος going beyond measure (or metre); whence also with nouns from adjs., as ὑπερθύριον the lintel of a door, ὑπερμετρία a passing all measure.
    Comparatively few of these have come down or been adopted in English, hyperbole, hyperborean, with their derivatives, being the chief; but from the 17th century hyper- has been extensively used, more or less on Greek analogies, in the formation of new compounds, and has even become a kind of living element, freely prefixed to adjectives and substantives . . .

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