Di- or De-? A Spelling Challenge
Is it Demented or Dimented?
Modern English so often pronounces unaccented syllables in such a way that virtually all vowels can sound alike. They all can take on the unaccented "schwa" or "uh" sound.
This can create a spelling
problem with certain words and groups of words. Accept/Except is a notorious example.This problem arises with words beginning with the prefixes de- and di-. There is a difference. If you know what the prefixes mean, you can keep track of the difference.
So What Does Defenestrate Mean?
DE-. The prefix de- usually means "out of" or "away from." So the roots of the word deplete literally mean "out of full" or "away from
full." That is a little awkward but we understand that it means something close to "empty." Defenestrate means literally "to go or cause to go out of a window." In Latin and many Romance languages today, the word de still has this meaning.
Di-, Dis-, and Dia-
DI-. The prefix di- usually means "two." This is fairly common in chemistry. For example, the compound carbon dioxide means "carbon with two oxygen
Occasionally di- can be short for the prefix dis-. This normally only happens before the letter v. The prefix dis- means "apart" or "asunder." It actually comes from a Latin form meaning "two," so it is related to the other meaning of di-. We see this in such words as divide (literally, "to see apart") or diverge (literally "to branch apart"). This really is not much different from the current meaning of these words as we can think of these as "to see in two parts" or "to branch in two."
There is also the prefix dia- which has a different meaning, but still, curiously enough, often applies to two things. Dia- means "across" or "through." It also actually has its ultimate root in a word meaning "two." So diameter literally means "a measurement through (or
across)," and dialogue means "words across," i.e., spoken with someone else.
What Does This Mean to Me?
So how does this help with spelling? In most cases if you know what these roots mean, you can tell how to spell the word. So is it dimented or demented? Well, the root -ment- means "mind" as in the word "mental." Demented still means "out of one's mind."
For what it is worth, English has several words for
"two minds," depending on the sense intended. If a person take different opposing positions, they are doubleminded. If they say one thing but mean something else, they are hypocritical. If it is mental disorder with multiple personalities, there are several different terms, probably the most common being schizophrenic or split personality.
Farzad Jalalian( Ilam UNiv.)
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