Longetivity is the name of the game

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Listening to this recent Freakonomics podcast episode, I heard a word variant that I'd never heard before: longetivity, being used to mean longevity. You can hear it at about the 8:35 mark of the podcast — I was listening on Stitcher, in case that matters. Coincidentally, the relevant portion of the podcast (from an interview with Dick Yuengling, beer lovers!) is transcribed on the episode's webpage, with the word "corrected" to longevity.

Here's the relevant excerpt:

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I get 744,000 Google hits for longetivity, plus 86,800 for longitivity. That's of course dwarfed by the 46 million+ hits for longevity, but it's large enough to make me surprised I'd never heard or seen it before. (Then again: how often does this word pop up in conversation or casual reading?) But I'm not at all surprised by its existence. There are many examples of modestly frequent words with -tivity (activity, negativity, positivity, creativity, …) to model this word on, whereas those with -evity (brevity, levity) are fewer and less frequent. Add to this the fact that -tivity is one of those endings that seems to be going the way of the -gate suffix, mostly as a way to signal different kinds of activity: there's E-tivity, wi-tivity, ball-tivity, ag-tivity, kid-tivity, backpack-tivity, pen-tivity, even gag姐 – 卸膊tivity — the list goes on and on. So I can imagine a lexical storage or retrieval process whereby you know the root is long and that it ends in -{e,i}vity, and longetivity seems like a pretty likely option.

Incidentally, the top hit in my Google search for "longetivity" was from this usage blog representing the opinions of "a small group of writers with various English-related degrees from U.S. universities". The only thing they have to say is this:

The word is longevity, meaning long life or duration of life. Longetivity is not a real word and should be avoided.

How helpful. They do provide two linked citations of uses of each form, though, and I suppose it's instructive that the Wall Street Journal and The Guardian use the "real word" while the Los Angeles Daily News and NME fail to avoid the
"nonexistent" (imaginary?) variant.

And speaking of things I hadn't heard before: longevity pronounced with a [g] instead of a [dʒ]. Cool.

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18 Comments »

  1. Emily said,

    August 11, 2011 @ 5:10 pm

    I'm pretty sure I've always pronounced "longevity" with a [g], though I've heard the [dʒ] form and felt uncertain about which was right. Both make sense: the word is clearly derived from "long"; however, before is often (but not always) pronounced [dʒ]. The relative rarity of "longevity" (especially in casual spoken discourse) probably contributes to this variation.

  2. Dunx said,

    August 11, 2011 @ 5:15 pm

    +1 Emily – I've always pronounced "longevity" with a [g], and everyone I have heard say the word (at least in Britain) used the same pronunciation.

    I wonder if it is a US/UK difference?

  3. Dunx said,

    August 11, 2011 @ 5:18 pm

    Perhaps not – Chambers includes only the [j] pron. Some other regional variation? I grew up in Yorkshire…

  4. Ellen K. said,

    August 11, 2011 @ 5:29 pm

    Actually, looking at the etymology of the word, the "long" part doesn't come from the English word "long", but from the Latin "longus". The two words mean the same thing, but the difference is significant with regards to pronunciation of the g. In Latin, when the word was borrowed into English, the g would be soft, not hard.

  5. Emily said,

    August 11, 2011 @ 5:44 pm

    @Ellen K: thanks for the etymology. To amend my previous comment, the relative unfamiliarity of the word, and its meaning, may give the impression that it contains "long" and thus contribute to the [g] pronunciation.

  6. Eric P Smith said,

    August 11, 2011 @ 6:30 pm

    The pronunciation of the ‘g’ is certainly not a US/UK difference. I’m British, and I can only recall hearing ‘longevity’ with [g] once, and that was from my own mouth as a child, and it was immediately corrected by my father.

    Incidentally, I say /lɔnˈʤɛvɪtɪ/, not /lɔŋˈʤɛvɪtɪ/. Wiktionary and Chambers seem to be alone in giving /ŋ/.

  7. Duncan said,

    August 11, 2011 @ 6:39 pm

    As a correspondence-schooled "missionary kid" child growing up in the 70s, I spent long hours devouring content such as Time Magazine, World Book Encyclopedia, etc, and thru most of my childhood (continuing after the family's return to the US) was typically reading and talking at 4+ years above my age and grade level.

    Thus, it was not unusual for me to encounter words in writing, sounding them out and trying to place them with words I already knew with the help of context, etc. But the mind tends to take shortcuts, and both errors and distinctive more literal pronunciations creep in. While (in reference to a recent LL article) I have perhaps more distinction between "tr" and "chr" in my "truck" than most (that article explained for me something I'd noted with some pronunciations but couldn't quite place my finger on, that I had simply chalked up to accent), likely as a result of a higher association with the written form than most have, by the same token here, I took a shortcut, and early on began pronouncing it "longetivity", not taking time to analyze whether that actually agreed with the spelling or not, until far later.

    When I did, it was as a result of actually hearing the word "longevity" and trying to match it to a word I knew from (incorrectly parsing) my reading. I'm not sure if it happened in this case or not, but in many such cases, I ultimately had to go look up both forms in the dictionary to convince myself of my incorrectness.

    Of course a kid of a generation later would likely have become aware of the problem when the spell checker flagged his typed "longetivity" as incorrect, and I certainly have that happen occasionally too, but my discovery of the problem here was earlier than that, I believe in high school, in the '80s.

    But due to that early error and the habit it formed, to this day it remains a tossup which form I use. Luckily, most of the time I'd be typing the term and have the spell checker flagging to rely on, but people in recorded interviews don't get that luxury.

    (FWIW, I acutely remember another similar mistake of mine, due to the embarrassment in my discovery thereof. "Asterisk". My short-cut sound-out-form was "aster-dick", and my personal discovery of the error was upon using the term amongst late junior high friends, who of course seized upon my mistake as an opportunity to tease me for quite some time, probably the more so as my personal dictionary likely still included many words above their heads, words which I used without even intuiting their being out of reach to some in my audience, so when they discovered a mistake in that personal dictionary, they gleefully pounced on it, much to my discomfort!)

    I recall sorting out "nukular" from "nuclear" well before Bush had the same problem in a far more public way, too.

    So I can certainly identify with the misfortune of the speaker in this case. "There but for the grace of God go I", for sure!

    Duncan

  8. Roger Lustig said,

    August 11, 2011 @ 9:29 pm

    Yuengling.

    Thanks.–EB

  9. Adrian said,

    August 12, 2011 @ 2:17 am

    Eric, there are *540* Google hits for longetivity. You should know better than to fall for the topline figure!

    Should I now? Thanks for being so kind about it.–EB

  10. Alon Lischinsky said,

    August 12, 2011 @ 3:50 am

    @Erin: I guess that what Adrian meant is that the unreliability of Google's hit count estimates has been repeatedly discussed in this very blog.

    Thanks for the pointers. (Contrary to what may be popular belief, we don't all sit around reading each other's posts all day.) And the name's "Eric".–EB

    Incidentally, and given that the discussion seems to have veered to the alternative pronunciations of ⟨longitude⟩. I am a /lɒnˈʤɛ.vɪ.tɪ/ speaker, and I don't think I've ever encountered the /g/ variant. I suppose that the people who use it would also say /ˈlɒŋ.gɪ.t(j)uːd/, /lɒŋ.gɪˈt(j)uː.dɪ.nəl/, and so forth.

    @Eric P Smith: I'm pretty sure the Wiktionary version is in error. The transition from a velar nasal to an alveolar stop does not have any basis in the phonotactics of English.

  11. KevinM said,

    August 12, 2011 @ 9:38 am

    So what you're saying, pace Dr. King, is that "longetivity has its place."

  12. Matt_M said,

    August 12, 2011 @ 9:40 am

    This kind of error seems to be very easy to make. I've recently had reason to use the word 'conservatism' several times in both speech and writing. Now, I know that the word is 'conservatism', but nearly every time I say it, it comes out as 'conservativism'. Not only that, but I usually type it that way, too – I have to keep going back and correcting it.

  13. Eric P Smith said,

    August 12, 2011 @ 9:51 am

    @Alon Lischinsky: thankyou. Encouraged by your support, I have amended the Wiktionary entry.

  14. kuri said,

    August 12, 2011 @ 10:45 am

    My experience is quite close to Duncan's — partly "sounding out" a word I had only encountered in writing and partly, I suppose, a sort of unconscious extrapolation of what the word "should" sound like led me to "longetivity." And it was a spell checker that finally led me to discover that it's "not a real word."

  15. Jerome Chiu said,

    August 12, 2011 @ 1:13 pm

    On gag姐 – 卸膊tivity:

    It's actually 卸膊tivity, while gag姐 (lit. Sister Gag) is the name of the character in the clip, played by Hong Kong comedian Jim Chim 詹瑞文.

    This is one of many examples of Hongkongers' fondness of coining Chinglish words using common English suffixes. Another example comes from the anime Springfield Flower Flower Alumni Association:

    http://youtu.be/1nVGb2KZd94

    But I guess the feint-hearted among us really don't want to know what a "chicken-claw-lun-er" actually does.

  16. J. W. Brewer said,

    August 12, 2011 @ 1:43 pm

    I wonder if interference from "longitude" is a factor in the appearance of "longetivity." "Longevity" can pair with "brevity" as its opposite, which I would think would reinforce the parallelism of the construction, but maybe that set of opposites is opaque for most English speakers who don't have "ars longa, vita brevis" floating around the back of their mind somewhere? (And for many uses of "brevity" the functional antonym is more something like "prolixity.")

  17. Mike said,

    August 12, 2011 @ 8:18 pm

    Although I've rarely used the word, I believe that I always use say 'longetivity' when speaking. If I remember correctly, it always used to annoy me when writing the word because the spell checker would want to change it to longevity, even though longevity was 'proper'. I quickly figured out longetivity was not in very widespread use and therefore didn't use it when writing, but longevity is forced and awkward for me to say when speaking.

    I'm from California by the way– just for reference's sake.

  18. Anomonominous said,

    August 12, 2011 @ 9:07 pm

    Longevitivity: 329 hits, longivitivity: 92 hits. Some of these are the adjective forms: You demonstrated your 'Longivitive Heaven & Earth' fighting skills. Longivitive Cake & Wedding cake.

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