inherent » inherit

Classification: English

Spotted in the wild:

  • The Internet is a powerful tool for businesses today, and it is important to understand the inherit security risks when leveraging this technology. (Addison-Wesley articles, May 6, 2005)
  • (It should be parenthetically acknowledged that the eye itself produces an inherit distortion of nature. In nature parallel lines never intersect; in the image beheld by the eye parallel lines always intersect - as in the image of receding railroad tracks). (Wikipedia, "Graphical projection", revision as of 16:00, 2 August 2005)
  • This lack of comprehension may have the potential to be catastrophic on the policy level, for although the United States is not colonizing Iraq, it is its inherit responsibility as the intervening power to maintain some semblance of a stable society. (PINR, 26 August 2003)
  • classic black and white stark contrasts shows an inherit belief in a clear seperation between good and evil. (link)
  • When Simon dies it shows the death of spirituality and a foreshadowing of what the inherit evil in man will do to nature later on. (Essay Depot, May 10, 2005)
  • Although it looks nice at first glance, while reading these replies, I think it has an inherit design flaw… (Invision Power Board forum, Aug 2, 2005)

The eggcorn _inherent»inherit_ was submitted via e-mail to Arnold Zwicky by Bill Findlay, who had discovered the spelling “inherit problem” in an e-mail addressed to him.

This triggered a small flurry of messages between several interested parties. Spellings in which a nasal is deleted from or inserted into the standard form are indeed very common, and it is necessary to find the genuine eggcorns (for example _inclimate weather_) among them. Or, as Arnold Zwicky put it:

> [T]he question is whether the semantics of “inherit” is somehow intruding itself into the expression “inherent problem”.

In his Language Log post _Those obstinant n’s_, Adam Albright indicates Otto Jespersen’s 1902 paper “The nasal in nightingale” (Englische Studien 31, pp. 239-242) and explains:

> It seems that English speakers have been having a hard time with nasals before consonants for centuries — probably ever since the sound change that deleted [n] before consonants in weak positions, as in an _tomato > a tomato_, _mine life_ > _my life_, _in the_ > _i’ the_, and so on. […]
> Interestingly, the usual trend seems to be to err on the side of caution, adding extra nasals “just in case.” Jespersen points that several English words have been altered in this way: _nightigale_ > _nightingale_, _passager_ > _passenger_, _messager_ > _messenger_, etc. For many centuries, the country to the west of Spain was known as _Portingall_ (Chaucer, Epilogue to the Nun’s Priest’s Tale: “Him nedeth nat his colour for to dyghen With brasile ne with greyn of Portyngale”.) Other fun examples that used to be more popular than they are now include _skelinton_, _milintary_, and _cementery_. And this process is by no means dead: Google turns up lots of hits for things like _dormintory_, _compensantory_, _exanctly_, _Ambercrombie and Fitch_, and even _celenbrate_. Another stunning example was recently given to me by Jaye Padgett, who admitted that a family member of his says [ompən] for open.

Common misspellings like _predominate_, _illiterant_, _celibant_, _deliquate_, _obstinant_, and also _inherit_ and _inclimate_ occur in words that are composed of a radical and a suffix, and the confusion happens between suffixes “with nasal” /-ent/, /-ant/ on one hand, and “without nasal” /-it/, /-ate/, /-ite/ on the other. In the last two cases, the radical changes as well, but the writer doesn’t necessarily realize this.

To separate the eggcorns from the chaff, Mark Liberman suggested a classification that I believe can be useful in other cases of doubt over whether a reshaping is an eggcorn or not:

> (1) the intended word(s) is/are the same as the standard expectation, but the spelling is messed up because of orthographic ignorance (e.g. “correspondant”).
> (2) the intended word(s) is/are the same as the standard expectation, but the spelling is messed up because of a slip of the fingers (e.g. “teh” for “the” or “tjos” for “this”).
> (3) the intended word(s) is/are the same as the standard expectation, but the spelling is messed up because of a slip of the brain from one word to another (a malapropism of the type that the writer instantly recognizes as wrong, or a typing automatism like “recognizing” for “recognizes”).
> (4) the intended word(s) is/are different from the standard word(s) expected in the context in question; among other reasons, this might be because of similar sound and semantic plausibility of the subsitution.

Only reshapings of scenario (4) are potential eggcorns.

Finally, Arnold Zwicky points out that _inherit_ is likely to be derived from only one of the two possible pronunciations of _inherent_:

> In both British English and American English, there are alternative pronunciations for _inherent_ — with the accented vowel /ɛ/ in the second syllable (as in _inherit_) or with the accented vowel /i/ in the second syllable (as in _inhere_). Both are listed in American dictionaries (like AHD4) and in British dictionaries (like NSOED2).

| link | entered by Chris Waigl, 2005/08/28 |


  1. 1

    Commentary by kim , 2005/08/29 at 4:49 am

    I’m on an email list to which one woman has consistently been writing about how her “conscious” is bothered by a particular negative behaviour. I’ve held back from writing “CONSCIENCE!” to her, and I enjoyed reading your explanation of the confusion in your post.

    I recently stumbled upon this site, and I love it. Lots of food for thought. Thanks!

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