spoliation; despoliation; *despoilment. A learned word, “spoliation” /spoh-lee-AY-shuhn/ means the act of ruining, destroying, or spoiling something. In the hands and mouths of the less-than-learned, it’s often misspelled and mispronounced *”spoilation” (an example of metathesis). The difference between the form of the verb and of the noun arises from different paths by which the words came into English: in the 14th century, “spoil” was borrowed from Old French (“espoille”), whereas in the 15th century “spoliation” was borrowed from Latin (“spoliatio”). “Despoliation” (= pillaging, plundering) is often misspelled *”despoilation” — a blunder that can spoil otherwise highly literate writing — e.g.: “On the environment, Porter has always leaned far to the other side of the ideological fence, and is outspoken as a critic of the despoilation [read ‘despoliation’] of the world’s rain forests.” Michael Kilian, “John Porter Isn’t a Household Name, but He’s Working on It,” Chicago Trib., 16 May 1994, at C1. Oddly, though, the corresponding verb is “despoil.” Why the discrepancy in spelling? The answer again lies in the vagaries of linguistic history. English borrowed the verb in the 13th century from Old French (“despoillier”) but the noun in the 17th century from Latin (“despoliatio”). And those two forms — for centuries, at any rate — stuck. The Frenchified noun coined in the early 19th century, *”despoilment,” never rose above being a needless variant. Language-Change Index — (1) *”spoilation” for “spoliation”: Stage 1; (2) *”despoilation” for “despoliation”: Stage 1. *Invariably inferior forms. ——————– Quotation of the Day: “I can’t see any gain for anybody in reducing English teaching to the status of a spectator sport. My colleagues who are working in that direction may, I’m afraid, be cutting their own throats, because the more effectively they manage to sell the public the idea that whatever passes current is right, the less reason the public will find for supporting them. How many dollars will a congregation drop into the collection-box for a preacher whose sole text is a running analysis of the percentage of the population that doesn’t attend church?” Louis B. Salomon, “Whose Good English?,” 38 Am. Ass’n Univ. Profs. Bull. 441, 448 (Fall 1952) (as quoted in The Ordeal of American English 160, 163 (C. Merton Babcock ed., 1961)).
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