who came up with words like physicality?
September 30, 2008 10:17 AM   Subscribe

whats the origin of words ending in -ality that are used specifically in the discussion of art? such as theatricality, aurality, physicality, etc. where/with whom did this trend begin?

i just think they are very curious.
posted by sponge to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm no lexicographer, but isn't '-ity' a pretty standard suffix?
posted by box at 10:32 AM on September 30, 2008

According to Webster it's from Latin via Middle French. It's a very common way to turn an adjective into a noun. Maybe it's just especially noticeable to you in an art theory context because people who study art like to use all kinds of crazy adjectives to describe it, resulting in formulations that stand out because you haven't seen them before?

posted by contraption at 10:55 AM on September 30, 2008

It's a very common way to turn an adjective into a noun.
posted by languagehat at 11:16 AM on September 30, 2008 [2 favorites]

This is the kind of widespread verbal affectation that usually begins with one person, that others admire and then imitate. I think the OP is asking who that one person was in theater who started it, which so many others then imitated.
posted by Class Goat at 11:30 AM on September 30, 2008

It's French for "-ality." True.

And I don't think it has anything particular to do with the discussion of art.
posted by koeselitz at 11:48 AM on September 30, 2008

As contraption and languagehat have said, productive suffixes—of which -ality is one of many examples—are a natural and unremarkable part of English usage.

From a short paper:

-ity is a 14th century borrowing form the French -ité via the Latin -it s, it tis. It did not come into real popularity until the 16th century. The suffix denotes a quality, state or degree: opacity, lucidity, mentality. It transforms adjectives into nouns or concrete nouns into abstract nouns. The OED lists several alternations including: -acity, -ality, -anity, -arity, -ariety, -bility, -eity, -idity, -ility, -inity, -iety, -ivity, -ocity, -osity, -uity.

That folks in the art community use words thus derived is probably a non-starter of an observation; folks in any community are likely to use the same sort of derivation in one context or another. You could make the argument that this sort of thing might happen more in discussions of art on account of the need or desire to characterize artwork according to some defining descriptive characteristics, but without some clear way to show that's actually the case you have only an observation likely made more compelling to you via plain old confirmation bias.

Finding anything like evidence of a starting point or a progenitor for such a theoretical abundance of alityness would likely be harder yet, but if you want to do some research you could start canvassing art history and art criticism texts.

This is the kind of widespread verbal affectation that usually begins with one person, that others admire and then imitate.

This is a ridiculously pat explanation with nothing at all provided to back it up. Just because it feels like it could be plausible doesn't make it anything like a correct or even responsible answer.
posted by cortex at 12:37 PM on September 30, 2008

its definitely a pretty standard suffix, but i'd assumed the coining of various '-alities- could be traced to a theorist of some sort from recent history.

however, after searching on the JSTOR archive database it seems that words such as physicality, aurality, theatricality, orality, etc have been used for around a century now, so it technically is something new.

in the past, it has been imho that that these words are flashier than they are insightful.

i think cortex answered it well although it would still be interesting to hear from anyone else who has spent time with these types of texts.

and thank you mefi for your time
posted by sponge at 2:01 PM on September 30, 2008

I like the question. Art history folks use words like aurality and physicality almost as technical terms. Sponge's question is about history of usage not morphology. The ability to explain the morphology of aurality doesn't answer the question of who or what group introduced the word or when. The term "new testament" has an unremarkable formulation and but you can go and find who is credited with the term.

Fourth hit in google on aurality: aurality
posted by bdc34 at 6:32 PM on September 30, 2008

here is another good one -- corporeality
posted by sponge at 4:37 PM on October 7, 2008

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