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Burning curiosity

Posted by Henry on April 19, 2004

In Reply to: Oops posted by Bob on April 19, 2004

: : : : Normally the prefix "in" means the opposite of the following word e.g. edible and inedible, direct and indirect, etc...

: : : : Does anyone therefore know why flammable and inflammable mean the same thing?

: : : : I'm wondering why there are two words for exactly the same thing. I wonder whether they originally meant easily set on fire and not able to be set on fire, but over time they were confused to mean the same thing.

: : : From American Heritage Dictionary online:
: : : Usage Note: Historically, flammable and inflammable mean the same thing. However, the presence of the prefix in- has misled many people into assuming that inflammable means "not flammable" or "noncombustible." The prefix -in in inflammable is not, however, the Latin negative prefix -in, which is related to the English -un and appears in such words as indecent and inglorious. Rather, this -in is an intensive prefix derived from the Latin preposition in. This prefix also appears in the word enflame. But many people are not aware of this derivation, and for clarity's sake it is advisable to

: : Finish the sentence perhaps?

: (Trackpad slippage.) "... for clarity's sake it is advisable to use only flammable to give warnings."

From Fowler's Modern Englih Usage Second Edition;
Inflam(e)able, formed from the English verb, has been displaced by inflammable adapted from French or Latin.
It must have been a supposed ambiguity in inflammable that led to the coining of the word flammable. But that could only make things worse, and flammable is now rare, usually in the compound non-flammable, a more compact version of non-inflammable.

Times have moved on since this edition and flammable now seems to appear more often than inflammable.