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<   No. 559   2004-08-07   >

Comic #559

1 Monty: For Heaven's sake, Haken! Don't shoot! This place is full of highly inflammable fuel!
2 Haken: You cannot fool me! "In-" is a negatory prefix, so that word means "not flammable"!
3 [sound]: Kabooom!!! {huge fireball engulfs entire panel}
4 {scene change: infinite grey plane}
4 Haken: {spotting Death of Insanely Overpowered Fireballs} Ach! Nazi science sneers at die English language...

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First things first.

flammable, adj. easily set on fire, combustible.

in-, a prefix of Latin origin corresponding to English un-, having a negative or privative force, freely used as an English formative, esp. of adjectives and their derivatives.

From these two definitions, the logical conclusion is that inflammable means "not easily set on fire, not combustible". But not so:

inflammable, adj. capable of being set on fire, combustible.

Of course there's a logical reason for this seeming inconsistency. Inflammable is the older word, originally derived from the word inflame, meaning to set on fire, which derives through the Middle English enflame and the Old French enflamer, itself derived from the Latin inflammare. The in- part has two distinct prefix meanings in Latin:

  1. The one we're used to, meaning a negation.
  2. The other one, meaning literally "in", as in "inside".
In Latin, the word inflammare essentially means "to set fire in" - which is where the in- comes from.

But to our modern eyes, it looks like the more common prefix meaning "not", so someone had the bright idea of dropping it and seeing what the "root" word was: flammable. Well, it seemed odd for that to mean "not combustible", which would have preserved the negation of the putative in- prefix, so some bright spark decided it also meant "combustible".

So we're left with this logical mess that can easily confound those with only passing familiarity with English. Like Colonel Haken.

Secondly, I know you've all been waiting for this moment for weeks. Ever since #523, over a month ago.

I hope it's been worth the wait. :-)

And yes, I really enjoyed making this strip.

2013-08-12 Rerun commentary: Of course Monty could have avoided the whole mess by saying the place was full of highly explosive fuel.

That would merely have implied that the fuel was previously plosive.

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Last Modified: Monday, 12 August 2013; 03:11:01 PST.
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