Saturday, April 16, 2011

Re-ally. Really?


Have you ever noticed that a trend in English is the loss of hyphens when forming words with prefixes. It wasn’t too long ago, for example, that words like “today” and “tomorrow” were written “to-day” and “to-morrow.” I can remember doing that in grammar school.

I got thinking the other day about "re-" words. I was very surprised to see how, sometimes, a hyphen alters the meaning. For instance, the verb “resign” means “to quit,” but “re-sign” means “to sign again.” That All-Star pitcher who “resigns” is off the team, but if he “re-signs” he is back on the team.

Webster’s notes a number of these pairs, although some of them can be a bit of a stretch. Among the better ones are:

“re-coil,” to coil anew; “recoil,” to pull or kick back (recoil in horror, the recoil of a rifle).

“re-cover,” to put a new cover on: “recover,” to regain possession of or get better.

“re-collect,” to gather together again; “recollect,” to remember,

“re-creation,” a new version; “recreation,” play, amusement, relaxation.

“re-dress,” to put clothes on again; “redress,” to make right.

“re-form,” to form again; “reform,” to make better.

“re-pose,” to watch the birdie again or rephrase a question; “repose,” to lie at rest.

“re-strain,” to put back through a strainer or pull a muscle again; “restrain,” to check, suppress, restrict.

And I'll close with an example of really pushing it a bit:

“re-ally,” to re-form an alliance; “really” — yes, really.

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