Preventative and alright

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Will Williams
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Preventative and alright

Post by Will Williams » Fri Oct 14, 2022 11:54 am

One of National Vanguard's most outstandiing writers and a master of the English language, David Sims, surprised me when he used the word preventative in this recent article about the Covid jabs: ... e-blender/
... There is another, quite different, theory that is quite widespread today: the idea that the mRNA jabs heavily promoted as preventatives for Covid actually harm the health of the people who get them.

So I looked it up on the site to find this:
Difference Between Preventive and Preventative:
Preventive and preventative have similar meaning and both refer to something that is used to prevent the onset of something that is undesirable.
However, preventive is more common of the two words.
Preventive is used mostly as an adjective, and when the word required is a noun, preventative is preferred.

So, by that definition Mr. Sims used the word correctly, even if I found it irksome. But a second source,, has much more to say:
The shorter word, preventive, has meanings such as "something that prevents," when used as a noun, and "devoted to or concerned with prevention," when used as an adjective. Preventative means the same thing. The question of which one you should choose depends much on your appetite for nit-pickery.

History of Preventative and Preventive
Of the two, preventive is slightly older, appearing in English at the beginning of the 17th century.

So Philip of Macedon, and Atis the sonne of Croesus, found a chariot in a swords hilt, and an Iron poynted weapon at the hunting of a Bore, to delude their preuentiue wearinesse.
— Richard Carew, The Survey of Cornwall, 1602

The warre which wee call preuentiue ought to bee esteemed the more fitte, for that the multitude of souldiers which the Turke carrieth alwayes with him to maintaine his owne designes, and to frustrate our purposes, is infinite.
— Louis Turquet de Mayerne (trans. by Edward Grimeston), The Generall Historie of Spaine, 1612

However, preventative is no Johnny-come-lately, showing definite use for over 350 years now.

Here follows the preventative: take a poor man, and settle him in a comfortable situation, making him pay (or secure) a reasonable valuation....
— Christopher Love, The Strange and Wonderful Predictions of Mr. Christopher Love, 1651

It openeth all obstructions, and suppresseth all manner of over-flowings in Women, strengtheneth the womb, cureth the mother, maketh the barren fruitfull, and is a great preventative against miscarryings, and rectifies most infirmities of the womb.
— John French, The York-shire Spaw, 1654

To commit the sin, and not to prevent the sin, when men have the preventative power of it, are very near ally'd, if not the same Crimes.
— Roger Boyle Orrery, The Answer of a Person of Quality to a Scandalous Letter Lately Printed and Subscribed by P.W., 1662

Preventive has always been more common than preventative (although the difference between the two words is more pronounced in some forms of English, such as the American varietal, than others). But for almost two hundred years the two words existed in peace, and no one seemed to mind much which one you used. It is not uncommon to find both of them used interchangeably by a single author within the same work.

...and sent for a neighbouring Apothecary to give him something preventive, for he had not yet found himself ill. send a preventative Medicine to the Father of the Child, to whom he had told their Condition.
— Daniel Defoe, The History of the Great Plague in London, 1754

But the English language is not only rich with variation; it is rich as well with strife, and people who like to tell you that the thing you're doing is a bad thing to do. And so, after over a century of peaceful coexistence, someone decided that one of these words was a bit off. We don't know who the first person to complain about preventative was, but individuals began weighing in on this at the end of the 18th century. By the middle of the 19th century the idea that the extra syllable in preventative was unseemly had made it into dictionaries and usage guides.

John Russell Bartlett, in his 1848 A Dictionary of Americanisms, sniffed that preventative was "A corruption sometimes met with for preventive both in England and America." He was followed by Matthew Harrison, who in his 1861 The Rise, Progress, and Present Structure of the English Language stated that preventative was nothing more than preventive "written and spoken improperly." This was followed by another hundred or years of language guides claiming that one of these words was proper and one was not.

In recent decades there has been some softening in the opposition to preventative. Some guides will allow that it is not a mistake, but advise using preventive for greater clarity. We advise you to use the word which speaks to your heart. Or emulate Daniel Defoe, and use both.
So I suppose it comes down to my "appetite for nit-pickery." Like with Mr. Harrison, preventative just doesn't sound right to my ear. I shouldn't be so sensitative and let loose with an expletative when I hear or read it. ;o}

It's like the word alright. I was taught in grammar school that it's improper -- something is either all wrong or all right, not alright, the version that I've noticed mostly used in closed captions on TV and in movies. Merriam-Webster, again:

Definition of all right adjective (Entry 1 of 2)
Whatever you decide is all right with me.
He was ill but he's all right now.
3informal : GOOD, PLEASING —often used as a generalized term of approval
an all right guy

Definition of all right adverb (Entry 2 of 2)
1: beyond doubt : CERTAINLY
She has pneumonia all right.
2—used interjectionally especially to express agreement or resignation or to indicate the resumption of a discussion
All right, we can do that if you want.
All right, let's go.
3: well enough : SATISFACTORILY
He does all right in school.

My nit-pickery seems justified about alright at
All right is correct, while alright is incorrect. The former is an accepted phrase by dictionaries and grammar books, while the latter is grammatically incorrect—despite being used, especially in informal writing. Thus, always use all right and treat alright as a misspelled world we should avoid.
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