Absolute and fuzzy absolutes

5. apr. 2001 - 16:23

There are other words in this category such as: absolute, complete, entire, equal, excellent, extreme, full, ideal, horizontal, impossible, infinite, parallel, perfect, perpendicular, round, square, thorough, total and utter. Careful writers accept that if something is "horizontal" or "parallel", it is simply that, and constructions like "this is the more perpendicular line", "the most horizontal line" or "the most parallel line" should be re-written.

However, English as a living language often defies the laws of logic. As The New Oxford Dictionary of English points out, most of these absolutes have a precise core meaning as well as a secondary fuzzy meaning, so that unique also has the fuzzy meaning of "very remarkable" and infinite also means "very great". It is here when we indicate approximation that constructions with "nearly", "almost", "close to" are used to convey approximation to the ideal/perfection: "This result was nearly ideal/perfect".

Although "nearly perfect" may be acceptable English, whenever comparatives are linked to such absolutes, the result often sounds like advertising, such as: "more perfect results", "more excellent performance". Careful writers always make the basis of their comparisons are clear. This is unlike advertising copywriters who often select murky comparisons of the type: More excellence in management or For more perfect copying…

licence, license

Despite the spelling differences, both these words sound the same.

Licence (Norw. lisens) is the British English (BE) spelling of the noun. In one sense, licence means a process to get official approval: "The 16th round of licences" or the giving of formal permission as in: "This product will be manufactured under licence in the UK". In this sense, it is rare that the indefinite article is used. Note that a specific licence such as a driving licence or 007's licence to kill can have an indefinite article in front. The licence spelling is only used in BE.


(Norw. gi lisens) is spelling of the verb in BE: "We are licensed to use this software". The process of obtaining a licence to drill in the Norwegian Sea or somewhere else is called licensing. In American English, both the noun and the verb are spelt license. Note that cars in the USA have license plates. These are called number plates in the UK.

Appendix/appendices, appendix/appendixes

Appendix has two meanings.

Appendix (Norw. vedlegg) is an annex or an addendum to a report. In this sense it has the plural appendices: "The appendices to this report provide the detailed data". These are usually numbered A, B, C and D. Any sections within an appendix can then be numbered A.1, A.2 etc. A neat way to refer to Table 2-1 in Appendix B is "see Table B.2-1". Similarly, Figure 2-2 in Appendix C is referred to as "see Fig. C.2-2". The plural ending is appendices is pronounced "a-pendi-seas".

Appendix (Norw. blindtarm) also means an internal organ: "He had his appendix removed at the age of three". This meaning of appendix has the plural appendixes, which is pronounced "a-pendick-sis".

Enlightening English

When a French Canadian politician was applauded after a speech, he thanked his audience with these memorable words: – I thank you for giving my wife and I the clap. I thank you from the heart of my bottom.

A French radio station had the following signing-off message in English:

– We hope you have enjoyed our nocturnal emissions and will be with us tomorrow for more.

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