05-10-08, 11:48 AM
The Simpsons did a bit on this in which Dr Nick Riviera discovers that "inflammable means flammable" with explosive consequences.
It is curious those words mean the same thing rather than the opposite as in "credible"and "incredible".
like ravel and unravel, restive and restless? :)
05-10-08, 01:26 PM
"Flammable" was created recently--AFAIK in the USA during my lifetime. The proper word, "inflammable," comes from "inflame." It's what should be an obvious derivation meaning "capable of being inflamed." For years, gasoline tankers plied the highways of the United States, bearing the colorful, well-known emblems of petroleum companies--some of the country's most famous corporations such as Shell, Standard, Mobil, Phillips and Union Oil--and marked with letters as tall as people warning INFLAMMABLE. For years the nation was safe from spurious "inflammation" of these valuable cargoes at the hands of inattentive onlookers who happened to be carrying torches.
Then one day--AFAIK in the immediate postwar era when I would have been growing up had I ever chosen to do so because I'm sure I remember the old trucks labeled INFLAMMABLE and asked my parents why they were changed--some bureaucrat with too much time on his hands and not enough experience in the outside world must have heard someone say:Wait a minute. "In-" is a Latin suffix meaning "not." So "inflammable" must mean "not flammable." Does anybody know what "flammable" means? I can't find it in any dictionary. Oh well, it obviously has something to do with fire and flame, and we know what the suffix "-able" means. Therefore, "flammable" must mean "capable of bursting into flame," so "inflammable" has to mean "not capable of bursting into flame." Oh joy oh joy! I can now fulfill my childhood dream of lighting a match by striking it on the side of that big red tanker truck with the Mobilgas logo on the side, using that match to light my cigar, and having you take a photograph of me looking all suave and sophisticated, smoking a cigar right next to the Flying Red Horse painted on the side of the trailer. I just love that Flying Red Horse because there's a giant revolving one all lit up on a pole on the roof of the Mobilgas station where my daddy buys gasoline. Smaller versions of it are also on all the gas pumps, and even smaller versions are printed on the side of all the cans of oil, ATF and other fluids they sell there to pour into car engines. My daddy even has a little one-gallon gasoline can he carries in the trunk in case we run out and have to walk to the gas station to buy gas, and that little can has a cute Flying Red Horse on it too. I just love the Mobil Oil company, their Mobilgas brand of gasoline, and that Flying Red Horse. Gee, I wonder what's inside that trailer anyway?So in a moment of sheer lunacy, to protect America's highways and truck stops from the consequences of a deed that could only be perpetrated by a scholar with a fair knowledge of etymology, yet stupid enough to set a gasoline truck on fire, the nonsense-word FLAMMABLE was coined.
Or perhaps this was done at the behest of the Sign Painters Union, because every tanker truck in America had to be repainted. :)