Miscellaneous Entries. unknown quantity (= a person or thing whose characteristics haven’t been assessed) was originally a mathematical phrase. It became popular in the mid-20th century. Since then, some people have misunderstood the phrase as “unknown quality” — e.g.: “‘She is an unknown quality [read ‘quantity’] as a legislator, but you don’t come in here and blow the lid off in your first term.'” Michele Kay, “Senate Race: A Survivor vs. an Upstart,” Austin Am.-Statesman, 5 Sept. 1994, at A1, A7 (quoting John White, a Democratic consultant and former Texas agriculture commissioner). Language-Change Index — “known quality” misused for “known quantity”: Stage 1. unravel, vb., makes “unraveled” and “unraveling” in American English, “unravelled” and “unravelling” in British English. unreason; unreasonableness; *unreasonability. “Unreason” = lack of reason; irrationality. “Unreasonableness” = (1) the quality of going beyond what is reasonable or equitable; or (2) an act not in accordance with reason or good sense. *”Unreasonability” is a needless variant of “unreasonableness.” unrivaled; unrivalled. The first is American English ; the second is British English. unsalable. So spelled — not “unsaleable.” unsanitary; insanitary. The first is now the usual form in American English. “Insanitary” is a variant with slightly more negative connotations. That is, if a place is “unsanitary” it is merely dirty, but if it’s “insanitary” it’s so dirty that it is likely to endanger health. *Invariably inferior form. For information about the Language-Change Index click here. ——————– Quotation of the Day: “I know not how it comes to pass, that professors in most arts and sciences are generally the worst qualified to explain their meanings to those who are not of their tribe. A common farmer should make you understand in three words, that his foot is out of joint, or his collarbone broken, wherein a surgeon, after a hundred terms of art, if you are not a scholar, shall leave you to seek. It is frequently the same case in law, physic, and even many of the meaner arts.” Jonathan Swift, “Pulpit Style,” in The Problem of Style 181, 182 (J.V. Cunningham ed., 1966).
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