Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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A-dept or a-DEPT?

 In Which Our Intrepid Blogger Indulges in a Shameless Display of Word-Geekery


Reveals Hidden Bardic Secrets


Handy User's Guide to Getting It Right

at least

Much of the Time


There's an anomalous class of words in English that mean one thing when stressed on the first syllable, and another when stressed on the second.

Words like adept, consort, present.

There are roughly 120 of these “bisexual” words in the English lexicon. All are bisyllabic. Virtually all come to English from French; virtually all originated in Latin as particle + verb.

They're the nightmare of those trying to learn English, and they manage to trip up even fluent native speakers on a regular basis.

If there's an official grammarian's name for this class of words, I don't know what it is. I call them “dual-stress homographs.” For the truly shameless, there's a list below of examples that I've collected over the years.

Here's a quickie rule-of-thumb for telling which stress is which.

In most cases, the noun is stressed on the first syllable (AD-dress), and the verb (or, sometimes, adjective) on the second (ad-DRESS). It's interesting that it's the verbs, rather than the nouns, that retain the original French stress (French favors last-syllable stress); make of it what you will.

In fine, you have to be a-DEPT to be an A-dept.

absent, abscess, abstract, access, addict, address, adept, adult, affect, ally, annex, attribute, august


collect, combat, commune, compact, complex, compound, compress, concert, concrete, conduct, confine, conflict, conserve, console, consort, construct, content, contest, contract, contrast, converse, convert, convict, convoy

decrease, default, defect, defense, detail, detour, digest, discharge, discourse, discount, dispatch

entail, entrance, escort, excess, excise, exploit, export, extract

ferment, finance, forbear

impact, import, impress, imprint, incense, incline, increase, insult, intrigue, inverse, invert, invite


object, obverse, occult, offense

perfect, perfume, permit, pervert, presage, present, pretense, proceed, process, produce, progress, project, protest, purport, purpose

rebel, rebound, recall, recap, recess, recoil, record, recount, redo, redress, reflex, refund, refuse, regress, reject, relapse, relay, remount, repeat, research, resource, retail, retake, retard, retort, rewrite, romance

secret, subject, survey, suspect

torment, transfer, transport, tribune



Above: Yury Shakov, Russian Tarot of St. Petersburg








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Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


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