Recently I dictated an essay in praise of what I believe is a prefix in the English language. That prefix had to do with the word “non.” You will remember – or I hope you will remember – that I wrote in that essay that I was asked many years ago to identify my daughters. As a general rule, I said that this is “the non-adopted daughter.” I had no idea whether we had made my other child feel special but I hope that that was the case.

Since that time, I have given a bit more thought to the use of what I believe to be the prefix of “non.” In my estimation this word has been overlooked. All things considered, we should praise the use of the word “non.”

And so in my ruminations I have thought of a few other words that incorporate the prefix “non.”

I have already told you about my daughters and perhaps the place to start is to say “non-adopted.” This provides an even playing field.

In this great state of New Jersey, I used to have a driver’s license. I thought that when my driving career came to an end in 2004, I could simply remove that card from my wallet. Here in the great state of New Jersey that is not the case. You may find this hard to believe but I am required to carry a “non-driver’s” driver’s license. My old driver’s license was taken from me and had holes punched in it. My new driver’s license, or I should say non-driver’s license, was issued to me for the purpose of getting on airplanes, cashing checks, and in other instances where identification is demanded. If I may say so, this is the single biggest rip-off by the state government in the history of New Jersey. Currently my non-driver’s driver’s license has expired. As a means of protest, I do not intend to renew it at the price of $26. I suppose the idea is to prove that I am the person that I say that I am in the issuance of the non-driver’s driver’s license. But I have told the great fat man who is the governor of New Jersey, Mr. Chris Christie, what he can do with his non-driver’s driver’s license.

The third word involving the use of the prefix “non” is the word “non-sighted.” I am fully aware that non-sighted means blind. But it seems to me that the word blind is unforgiving and I hope that you will find it within your heart to make use of the word non-sighted.

There is one other word that is non-partisan. It is “non-essential.”

Then there is the word “non-fiction,” which I should have thought about long ago. In my case, I believe that it has been nearly 70 years since I have read a book of fiction. So the word “non-fiction” describes me very accurately.

There are other words such as “non-unique” which I find do not have many uses. But there is also the word “non-gay” which would have applicability here in the eastern provinces of the great and glorious United States. The word “non-gay” seems to strike a chord in my soul.

Then we come to the story of my life which could be called “non-rich.” I have never been a wealthy man such as Mitt Romney has been and I have never been a politician. But I believe the word “non-rich” is a lovely addition to the English language. There is also the word “non-existent.” I am not quite sure where that word would be used but I include it here because of my efforts to be all inclusive. I am sure there are one or two other words that fit into the “non” category.

Well, these are just transient thoughts about the great word “non.” It seems to me as an interested observer of the language of the Anglo-Saxons that the prefix “non” needs to be celebrated a bit more than it has been in the past. And so in this essay I have sought to praise the existence of the word “non.” I realize that there is some redundancy, but the word “non” is a significant word and should receive its full due.

It may not be the most exciting word in the English language but think of it in these terms. Where would we be if we did not have the word “non?” I shudder to think what would happen to our civilization if we were forced to try to find a substitute for the prefix “non.”

January 27, 2012


For the record, the word “nonexistent” gets used in fourteen essays, not counting this one, so he definitely can think of how that word might be used.

“Non” gets me thinking about language a little bit. Specifically I remember the (fictional!) novel 1984, where “newspeak” reduced the English lexicon dramatically. One of the biggest changes was halving the amount of adjectives by use of the prefix “un” — so instead of “good” and “bad” you had “good” and “ungood.” “Fat” and “Skinny” became “Fat” and “Unfat.” The prefix “non” can work sort of the same way — instead of Biological and Adopted daughters, for instance, you can have adopted and non-adopted ones, or biological and non-biological ones. Either way would make the language a little easier to learn, if perhaps in exchange for being a little less poetic. Dystopian connotations aside, I wonder if it’s such a bad idea.

In Chinese, for instance, each type of noun gets what’s called a “measure word.” If I’m trying to buy two bananas and three jackets from a department store, I’d need to tell the clerk not just that I want two bananas and three jackets, but two “slender objects” worth of bananas, and three “clothes pieces” worth of jackets. Papers are measured by the flat thing; chopsticks are measured by the special measure word for things that come in pairs. English has a few of these, of course — for example I might use measure words if I want to talk about a pride of lions or a murder of crows. But I don’t HAVE to — the phrase “I saw a few lions” wouldn’t raise any eyebrows. More commonly, I might use “pieces” of paper or “pairs” of jeans. By and large, though, the language either doesn’t use measure words or vastly consolidates them into a small number of very general purpose words like “some.”

All this to say that maybe simplification of language isn’t so bad — I don’t think we lose out on anything in English by not having a specific measure word for “belts”; I can just say I have three belts at home and everyone knows what I mean. In Chinese I have to let them know that I have three long-things worth of belts at home, and the “long things” measure word of course isn’t the same one that I’d use for counting bananas. Other languages like Spanish will add a gender to every single noun in the language, so in addition to learning that “papel” means “paper,” you also have to remember if it’s “EL papel” or “LA papel” and if you use the wrong one you sound like an idiot. Complications like gendering your nouns or assigning every type of noun its own special measure word serve no purpose other than to frustrate language learners. They contribute basically zero extra meaning.

English of course is a nightmare of exceptions, so standardizing those would probably be of a lot more use than just adding “non” to our adjectives, but any step in the right direction is okay by me.

The prior essay he mentions is here.

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