oversight

by Paul Niquette
Copyright 2000 by Paul Niquette.. All rights reserved.

 
oversight 1. management by overseeing the performance or operation of a person or group  2. a mistake resulting from inattention. 3. an unintentional omission resulting from failure to notice somethin
Some words get stretched beyond their elastic limits and lose their strength.  Others, curiously, take on opposite meanings.  Software Does Not Fail" complains that the word oversight, like cleave, can cut both ways ("split apart" or "cling together").  As "watchful care," the word oversight is at its best; meanwhile, as an "unintended omission," even one oversight can result in disaster.  This observation inspired the author to coin undersight to replace oversight in contexts where the distinction really matters (commercial aviation comes first to mind).

Another case in that point...

inflammable adj. 1. Tending to ignite easily and burn rapidly; flammable.  2. Quickly or easily aroused to strong emotion; passionate (dare we use the word hot?)

flammable adj. Easily ignitable and capable of burning with great rapidity; highly combustible; inflammable.

Flammable and inflammable are alike in meaning and interchangeable in literal usage.  One can speak of a flammable fluid or of an inflammable one, both drawn from the same vessel.  Figuratively, one can refer to an inflammable temperament, but not to a flammable one. Flammable is especially appropriate where the term serves as a warning (signage on a tank truck, for example). Flammable is less susceptible to confusion than inflammable, which is sometimes mistaken for nonflammable or noncombustible.

 
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