Saturday, June 19, 2010

Pick Up the Peace

In sixth grade, my classmates and I were forced to learn all the prepositions — or at least what my teacher told us were all the prepositions. I’m not sure what the point of this exercise was, since simply recognizing how prepositions worked should have allowed us to identify them readily out in the wilds of literature. (“Six letters? Looks like a verb but introduces a phrase describing when a thing happened? Let me adjust my binoculars… It’s during! It’s a during! We’ve spotted our first during!”)

Pointless or not, our class ultimately got our revenge. After we demonstrated that we had, in fact, committed the list to memory, one girl raised her hand and explained that she showed the list to her mom, who had pointed out that it was missing amid. More hands went up. “Yeah, what about betwixt?” “Via”? “Per”? I myself brought up circa, which we’d learned about that same year from our history textbook. Upon considering these, our teacher admitted that they all were prepositions, and they and about twenty-something others were tacked onto the list of words next year’s sixth-graders would have to learn. Ha! Suck on these obscure prepositions, kids who didn’t make the elementary school birthday cut-off and were therefore inferior to us.

Since that day, I’ve always kept an eye out for new and strange prepositions. (Yes, even the amended list was still incomplete, even though prepositions are considered a closed class of words.) They’re not the most exciting elements of the English language, but they do a job and they do it well. And I specifically look for the one-word prepositions, as the multiple word combos that function as such — according to, regardless of, with respect to — aren’t as exciting.

Some time ago, A Word A Day devoted a week just to odd one-word prepositions, and the most exotic of the specimens is this week’s word.
pace (PAY-see, PAH-chay, or PAH-kay) — preposition: with due respect to, especially when expressing polite disagreement.
Its etymology traces back neither to racing speed or supposedly authentic hot sauce, but to the same origin as those anti-war flags you see around Europe — the ones that look like gay pride flags until you see the PACE written across them. In Italian, pace is “peace.” The prepositional pace also comes from the Latin pax, “peace” — specifically the Latin word’s ablative case, which is the one that would appear in many Latin prepositional phrases.


Neat though this word may be, I’ve never spotted in the wild. A Word A Day’s example is the only time I can recall seeing it in print. (From the Prague Post: “The movie Scoop (pace my friend and occasional critical contributor to this page who reviewed it favorably) is merely another mark of Woody Allen's descent into insubstantiality.”) And when so far it’s come up in discussions with other word nerds, they’ve never heard of it either. But it’s a thing. I swear. Now go out and use it and confuse anyone you’re talking to.

By the way, the other offerings in A Word A Day’s week of preposition mania were maugre (“in spite of”), circa, ere and chez, the last one meaning “at the place of” and being known best from restaurant names. Why go to Durleen’s Diner when you could instead go to Chez Durleen?

Previous strange and wonderful words:
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3 comments:

  1. Here in México we were required to learn the prepositions. I still know them from memory: a, ante, bajo, cabe, con, contra, de, desde, en, entre, hacia, hasta, para, por, según, sin, so, sobre y tras.

    I am unaware of any other words serving as prepositions in Spanish. I'll look it up.

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  2. I've seen "pace" quite a bit in academic publications. (I'm in applied linguistics, so maybe those applied linguists dug it up.)

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  3. Alice: I wonder why it would be that Spanish has such a smaller number of prepositions than English does. But then again I suppose that Spanish may have a smaller overall vocabulary than English does, for both better and for worse. I know that's a hard thing to tally exactly, but I'm mostly basing that claim on my own experience with the languages and the fact that my standard English dictionary is a lot thicker than my comparable Spanish one.

    Betsy: I wouldn't be surprised that "pace" would show up in academia, at least among the kind of academics who try to correct each other politely.

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