More about "trident" vs. "tridant"

Subject: More about "trident" vs. "tridant"
From: Ben Kovitz <bkovitz -at- IGS -dot- COM>
Date: Wed, 17 Jul 1996 15:48:00 PDT

Tim Altom wrote:

> On the other hand, the unusual spelling of "tridant" would signal the
> reader that it's a special word for a special case, rendering it more
> likely to be recognized as jargon. That increases the overall
> "professional" tone of the work, because it's so deeply involved in
> the business that it needs its own professional language.

I think this makes a great deal of sense. I don't know if I can get
the client to agree, though, because "tridant" is also a common
misspelling of "trident". They seem to think that the correct spelling
would be the one found in a dictionary, and they're probably not aware
that "tridant" is simply a *new word*, which of course you can't expect
to find in the dictionary. Instead, you have to make recourse to the
English language's principles of word-formation (and there are such
rules, even though they're not often taught).


Matthew Hicks wrote:

> Wouldn't this actually be "triant"? Where's the "d" coming from? All
> your other examples brought their own roots to the party and picked up
> the "ant" when they got there; the "ant" didn't bring any friends.

And Tim Altom in response:

> Great point. "Triant" would bring the word into line with existing words
> like "trias", a series of geological strata that are divisible into three
> groups, and "triarchy," government by three people. And it would break the
> pesky bond with "trident."

Well, I looked it up and found, to my surprise, that the Latin word
for "one third" (the fraction) is "triens". That's right, with an 'e'.
That means that if the word is to be imported into English, it should
be "trient" (since we take the stem, not the nominative, when we
import from Latin).

And come to think of it, while my Latin is really pretty minimal, I
would expect that the words for "one seventh" and "one ninth" would
be "septens" and "novens", not "septans" and "novans". I'm not sure
why, though, but it might be significant that the vowel in the last
syllable of the word for three, seven, and nine is an 'e': "tres",
"septem", and "novem". Would anyone who actually *knows* Latin care
to explain how they formed words for fractions in Latin? My theory
doesn't explain how you get "quadrans" from "quattuor".

So anyway, the first mistake was using the word "trid(ae)nt" regardless
of how it's spelled. Unfortunately it's way too late to correct that.
And now I don't know if there's any basis in precedent for either
spelling, since both are nonsense. There's still Tim's reasoning, though,
based not on precedent but on the practical value of spelling two distinct
words differently even though they're pronounced the same (a practice
that does have a lot of precedent, actually). *I* find that convincing, but

wonder if one has to be a professional writer or linguist to find it

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