[language] Condign motives and ulterior punishments

I love orphaned words. (Not sure what the technical term for this is, chemo brain can’t pull it up.) English is full of them, once you start looking around. Two that leap to mind are “condign” and “ulterior”.

Not much besides punishment can be condign. Ever heard of a condign ham sandwich? Likewise, one can have an ulterior motive, but rarely sees an ulterior diagnosis. There are some limited uses for both words, and of course one can always ironically force a word for stylistic reasons, but mostly these words appear in one and only one place.

What are your favorite examples of this?

Also, bonus word: “preantepenultimate”.

7 thoughts on “[language] Condign motives and ulterior punishments

  1. Amy Thomson says:

    …and the preantepenultimate shall be nearly first, but also not quite last.

  2. Jed says:

    A college friend of mine calls such words “stormy petrels” (though his definition is a bit more restrictive than yours); link is to a column I wrote about them back in ’97. It resulted in much more controversy and disagreement than most of my columns; lots of people proposed counterexamples to items on the stormy petrels list. I don’t maintain or update the list any more, and I now suspect that almost all of the items on it are not, strictly speaking, stormy petrels; still, figured you might be interested.

    1. Jay says:

      Hah! Thank you.

  3. Cora says:

    The proper lingustic term for words which only occur with specific other words is “collocation”.

    The example I used in my “Introduction to English Lingustics” was “jet” (as in type of coal) which nowadays almost always occurs in conjunction with “black” and often with a synonym for “hair”, i.e. “jet black tresses”.

    Another good example are the various words for groups of animals, which always occur only with one or two kinds of animals, e.g. a shoal of fish, a gaggle of geese, a pride of lions, a swarm of insects, a pack of wolves/dogs, a flock of sheep/goats/birds. Interestingly, werewolves usually run in packs, but in Rachel Vincent’s urban fantasy series, werecats form a pride.

  4. alexis says:


  5. Robert Taylor says:

    condign merit

Comments are closed.