"Suffusive to say"

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Reader JC writes:

Just ran across a great eggcorn: "suffusive to say" (instead of "suffice it to say"). Got it in email from a co-worker but there are 1000+ hits in Google.

"Suffusive to say" is certainly Out There. And the source phrase "suffice it to say" feels the force that tends to create eggcorns, because of its antique syntax. But it's an atypical eggcorn, in that the intended meaning of the substitution "suffusive to say" is a bit diffuse, if not positively suffusive — and suffusive is a pretty rare word to start with.

Suffusive is in the OED, glossed as "Tending to suffuse or spread", but it's quite rare, occuring twice in the COCA corpus (thus roughly once per 225 million words of English text):

All the postcards of that day are suffused with the most romantic light: either moonlight bathing the bridges of the turnpike, making the concrete slabs fairly glow and the grass median turn luminous, or an ambiguous twilight painting the curves and deep cuts peach and pink. Even in views of the tunnel interiors, overhead lights become tiny moons, afloat in clouds of their own suffusive illumination. [Smithsonian Magazine 1990]

Nostalgia and progress seem to be our frail national gestures against the enveloping, suffusive nightmare of time which swallows first the unaware because they are least free. [PBS Newhour 1999]

Suffusive has been used just once in the NYT since 1851 (Michael Brenson, "When Nature Became God, Art Changed", 3/11/1990):

Van Gogh believed in the sun and was optimistic in its presence. For him, it clearly meant the fire of punishment, purification and love. It was divinity; it was nature's Christ. "Oh! those who don't believe in this sun are real infidels," he wrote. His sunflowers, their faces turned eagerly and obediently toward the sun, suggest pious souls. His sower and plowers would inherit the earth not only because of their meekness and labor but because they wore the sun like clothes. In the suffusive light of the south of France, van Gogh could dream of an artistic community.

In LION's compendious selection of English literature, suffusive has seen just two uses in poetry, and three in prose. The first of the two poetic uses is in Maria Gowen Brooks' 1825 poem Zóphiël:

85 And yet, despite of all, the starting tear,
86 The melting tone, the blood suffusive, proved
87 The soul that in them spoke could spurn at fear
88 Of death or danger; and, had those she loved

89 Required it at their need, she could have stood
90 Unmoved as some fair-sculptured statue, while
91 The dome that guards it earth's convulsions rude
92 Are shivering, meeting ruin with a smile.

The second one is in Herman Melville's 1876 poem Clarel, which Wikipedia calls "the longest poem in American literature, stretching to almost 18,000 lines":

For Vine, over him suffusive stole
An efflorescence; all the soul
Flowering in flush upon the brow.

The three prose examples are all in works by George Eliot, one from Middlemarch

As he threw down his book, stretched his legs towards the embers in the grate, and clasped his hands at the back of his head, in that agreeable after-glow of excitement when thought lapses from examination of a specific object into a suffusive sense of its connections with all the rest of our existence – seems, as it were, to throw itself on its back after vigorous swimming and float with the repose of unexhausted strength – Lydgate felt a triumphant delight in his studies, and something like pity for those less lucky men who were not of his profession.

…and two from Daniel Deronda:

Meanwhile enters the expectant peer, Mr Bult, an esteemed party man who, rather neutral in private life, had strong opinions concerning the districts of the Niger, was much at home also in the Brazils, spoke with decision of affairs in the South Seas, 137 was studious of his Parliamentary and itinerant speeches, and had the general solidity and suffusive pinkness of a healthy Briton on the central table-land of life.

and

The Rector, however, chewed no poisonous cud of suspicion on this point: he made marginal notes on his own copies to render them a more interesting loan, and was gratified that the Archdeacon and other authorities had nothing to say against the general tenor of his argument. Peaceful authorship! – living in the air of the fields and downs, and not in the thrice-breathed breath of criticism – bringing no Dantesque leanness; rather, assisting nutrition by complacency, and perhaps giving a more suffusive sense of achievement than the production of a whole Divina Commedia.

Suffusive even occurs as an obscure piece of linguistic jargon, in the phrase "suffusive predicatid":

Non-activity predicatids are either generic, that is, they are related to time which is non-specifiable, or they are suffusive. Or they may be simultaneously generic and suffusive. Suffusive predicatids have been so labelled by Allen, and his description of them is followed here. Suffusive predicatids are predicatids whose referents cannot be partitioned by interludes of time because their beginnings and ends cannot be discerned.

Perhaps the fact that the root suffuse is somewhat commoner (573 instances in COCA, or about 1.3 per million words) helps make suffusive available for eggcornic substitution.



16 Comments

  1. Bruce Rusk said,

    November 28, 2012 @ 10:06 am

    Over 2K ghits for "suffisive to say," another interesting reanalysis.

  2. Matt G said,

    November 28, 2012 @ 10:15 am

    This looks to me like it's a combination of an eggcorn and a cupertino. The eggcorn was "sufficive to say" (that's how I originally read title of this post), and then the spellchecker converted it to "suffusive to say."

    [(myl) You might very well be right -- Google returns 211 actual pages containing "sufficive to say", 83 for "suffisive to say", and 120 for "suffusive to say". (Oh, and 477 for "sufficeth to say", and 16 for "suffuse it to say"...)]

  3. Stan said,

    November 28, 2012 @ 10:33 am

    Effusive is considerably more common, and has to do with speech, so maybe in some cases it's a factor in the "suffusive to say" eggcorn?

  4. Rod Johnson said,

    November 28, 2012 @ 10:43 am

    Yeah, "sufficive" makes sense to me—if something suffices, then it's sufficive, right? An easy mishearing of "suffice it." And then spellcheck does the rest.

  5. Rod Johnson said,

    November 28, 2012 @ 10:47 am

    As an aside, "suffusive predicatids" makes me laugh. As an academic "grandson" of Ken Pike, I was exposed to lots of these neologisms. Tagmemicists surely did love to make up terminology.

  6. Yuval said,

    November 28, 2012 @ 11:28 am

    Came here to write what Matt G said. I doubt people actually have "suffusive" in mind in this context, or ever for that matter. A contextual proofreader such as http://www.gingersoftware.com/ (where I work) does fix "sufficive" to "suffice" in this context.

  7. John Lawler said,

    November 28, 2012 @ 12:28 pm

    I suspect there are lots of other fixed and semi-fixed phrases with the same pragmatic force. The phrase that comes most readily to my mind is needless to say.

    But (it's) sufficient to say is another. I think that's how I interpreted suffusive. I didn't even think of suffice it to say until it was pointed out in the post.

  8. Eric Baković said,

    November 28, 2012 @ 1:10 pm

    "Suffices to say" is another.

    http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/002548.html

  9. Mark F. said,

    November 28, 2012 @ 2:05 pm

    I don't think "needless to say" has the same effect. "Suffice it to say" suggests that there is more being left unsaid. That may be because what is being said is all that can be agreed upon, or because it's all that the speaker wants to reveal. OTOH, "needless to say" focuses on the speaker's expectation that the listener may already know and agree with what is being said.

  10. Jayarava said,

    November 29, 2012 @ 4:24 am

    I read an article yesterday by an Indian author of the early 20th century who finished with "Conclusive Remarks".

  11. maidhc said,

    November 29, 2012 @ 6:02 am

    I wonder whether "suffice" is one of those words used only in a small set of fossilized phrases. "Suffice it to say" and "X would suffice". I can't think of when else you would use it.

  12. RP said,

    November 29, 2012 @ 9:45 am

    @maidhc,
    I don't think so. I can certainly imagine saying "X should suffice", "X ought to suffice", "X might suffice", "X will have to suffice", "will X suffice?"…

  13. Russell said,

    November 29, 2012 @ 10:41 am

    My favorite so far: surprise it to say.

  14. J.W. Brewer said,

    November 29, 2012 @ 5:02 pm

    Have we now completely lost transitive "suffice," as in "Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us"?

  15. Rod Johnson said,

    November 30, 2012 @ 3:34 pm

    I wonder–kind of a tangent, but this thread is otherwise dead–whether "it sufficeth us" is truly transitive. That "us" feels more like some kind of benefactive adjunct (like the "me" in "I'm gonna get me a beer." Can it be passivized–that is, can anyone say "We are sufficed by it"? There seem to be a number of constructions that have the appearance of a transitive (NP V NP), but where the second NP isn't really an object. I would be curious what Geoff/CGEL would say about this.

  16. J.W. Brewer said,

    November 30, 2012 @ 6:43 pm

    FWIW, the Greek first-person-plural pronoun rendered as "us" in "it sufficeth us" is dative rather than accusative – I don't know enough about other uses of the Greek verb (arkeo) to know whether it "takes the dative" as a general matter (although obviously dative/accusative categorization can be language-specific and not flow through in translation, and can also be idiosyncratically word-specific in a given language without any deep/obvious semantic motivation) or indeed whether arkeo is more commonly used intransitively without an "object" at all.

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