Case of mistaken identity

In a conversation with my friend JDL the other day the word “accusative”, the name of the grammatical case, made an appearance. We both wondered why on earth the case was thus named. This was, I might add, getting on for 60 years after either of us had first heard the term. What, we wondered, has the idea of accusation got to do with a grammatical case, whose main function is to signal what is affected by the action of the verb? The OED supplied the answer eventually. The term is a goof. Here is what the OED has to say:

The formation of classical Latin accūsātīvus rests upon a misinterpretation of Hellenistic Greek αἰτιατικός ‘of or relating to that which is caused or effected (ancient Greek τὸ αἰτιατόν )’, designating the case of the effect, or thing directly affected by verbal agency, but misinterpreted by the Latin grammarians as ‘(the case) of accusing’ ( < ancient Greek αἰτιᾶσθαι to accuse).

Sticking with the goof theme, I read today in The Cornishman, the Penzance and district weekly newspaper, that tomorrow the Jubilee Pool will re-open. This is an open-air bathing pool on the promenade in Penzance, which was badly damaged in the winter storms in 2014. A bold headline on the page dealing with the re-opening declares:

It is ‘a good day for Penance’.

Finally, a rather surreal piece of advice from the Royal Horticultural Society website on a page about growing courgettes:

The flowers can be eaten too – but make sure you remove the pistols first. Try them dipped in batter and then fried.

2 thoughts on “Case of mistaken identity

  1. Removing the pistols –especially before meals– sounds like a very sensible piece of advice.

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