Posted by JW on March 24, 1998 at 06:51:35:
In response to unexceptionable, written by Patricia on March 24, 1998 at 01:16:04
] Does anyone know anything about the metamorphosis of the word "unexceptionable"? Every time I come across it in JA I feel the the word should be "exceptional". For example: Lady Bertram tells Fanny "that it is every young woman's duty to accept such a very unexceptionable offer as this.[Henry Crawford's offer of marriage]" In modern American English we would call his offer "exceptional" meaning terrific, if we called it "unexceptional" we would imply that it was common place and therefore not terrific. Thanks for any insights.
JW: Exception is a noun formed from a verb. Un-exceptionable therefore means something to which exception cannot be taken. A form of mild praise. Common American usage has reversed its meaning, a not unfamiliar process. The most famous example of this process is to be found in the reported statement of King James 1/6 when he first saw St Paul's Cathedral. ' Artificial, terrible and aweful to behold' ---which was high praise indeed! But functional illiteracy hurries on apace.
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