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I've always been told that "aboriginal" as a noun is an error. I don't mind being a descriptive dictionary and adding it as a noun but do we yet have a way to mark that such a usage is deemed erroneous? Hippietrail 11:55, 19 Jan 2004 (UTC)

etymology of aboriginalEdit

From ab origine + -al directly, or from the English word aborigine? OED says the former, MW3 says the latter. Normally I would give the OED the last word on such matters, but "aborigine" is attested a good century earlier, and it seems odd that such an odd coinage would be made independently. -- Visviva 06:21, 11 March 2009 (UTC)

Just to make it more confusing, Etymonline says that aboriginal is the correct Latin singular.[1] It might simply be unclear when the expression is to be considered naturalized English, and OED and MW made different calls on it. Or maybe aboriginal is still considered a Latin phrase at the same time that the mistake aborigine must be considered an English coinage. Just speculating. Michael Z. 2009-03-11 15:15 z
I don't think that's what Etymonline is saying there; I think that sentence is meant to say that the correct singular of the English term "aborigines" is "aboriginal". OED entry for "aborigine" also mentions "aboriginal" was used in this way. So does that mean it's ab origine -> Aborigines -> aborigines -> aboriginal? Weird. I can see why the OED went with their ab origine explanation. -- Visviva 16:54, 11 March 2009 (UTC)
Ah, you're right. But I still wonder if the Latin collective noun was Aborigines, was an individual an Aboriginal.
English Aborigines seems to date from exactly the period when transportation of convicts to Australia was replaced by free colonists. Maybe the popularization of the concept brought it from the realm of Latin speakers, and prompted the English back-formation. Any idea if a particular publication popularized aborigine? Michael Z. 2009-03-11 20:11 z
In word aboriginal, original is clear but the "ab" has unknown meaning to me,if you guess what ab means, you will get the clear meaning of that word.Willy agrimano
See ab#LatinMichael Z. 2010-04-13 16:14 z
ab means from in Latin. So ab origine should mean from the origin, i.e. originally. Note that origine is the ablative case of origo.
Anyway, the etymology is wrong; that is because -al is used only for neuter nouns, cf. animal, but note -alis adjectives which enters English as -al and which accepts m and f genders; cf. medicinal, fraternal, maternal.—This unsigned comment was added by (talk).
See the more complete etymology at Aboriginal. The -al ending is added in English, not Latin, and it is based on considering the Latin ab( )origines as an English plural. (I had consolidated the main entry there, but for some reason other editors have built it into two fuller entries again.) Michael Z. 2010-04-16 15:43 z
Also the note at aborigineMichael Z. 2010-04-16 16:15 z

It should come from ab origine + -al,aborigenes ,(latin pl m, important aborigenes has not the singular form), should come from ab origine (grossly native of).It is possible that the first to use it was ethnologist or a anthropologist and he used that latin word to classify those populations.Probably he did a mistake or on Latin or on English (as EOD says).If the mistake was on Latin probably he believed that the singular form of "latin" word aborigenes was "latin" word aborigine (aborigenes has not the singular form) and after he did not "translate" aborigine in the correct form ...aboriginal(as EOD says), a double mistake then.If the mistake was on English he simply moved the "latin" word aborigines on english and trying create the singular form,on english, he simply erased an -s ( aborigine ) instead of use aboriginal (as EOD says).Just another observation aboriginal not seem to be a noun,but an adjective,so maybe EOD did a mistake.just speculating

--LupusInFabula 18:01, 5 October 2010 (UTC)


Just wondering, why do we have "Alternative capitalization of Aboriginal" as Adj sense 2 & Noun sense 1 when "aboriginal" isn't capitalised? --Tyranny Sue 13:08, 23 February 2010 (UTC)

What do you mean? Did you look at [[Aboriginal]]? —RuakhTALK 14:57, 23 February 2010 (UTC)
Yes I have. I mean why is an entry which begins with a lower-case letter described twice in its definition as a "capitalization"? Obviously "Aboriginal" is capitalized and "aboriginal" is not capitalized. How can the verb capitalize apply to a non-capitalized word (i.e. "aboriginal")? --Tyranny Sue 03:58, 25 February 2010 (UTC)
Wouldn't something like "Lower case spelling of Aboriginal" make more sense?--Tyranny Sue 04:11, 25 February 2010 (UTC)
Its capitalization is “uncapitalized”. “Ab-” and “ab-” are the alternative capitalizations. Perhaps some invocation of “case” would be technically better, but how would you state that, simply, in the definition? Michael Z. 2010-02-25 14:07 z
Well, the problem is that the verb 'capitalize' seems to actually indicate the opposite of 'uncapitalization'.
My suggested alternative (above) was something along the lines of "Lower case version of Aboriginal" or "Lower case spelling of Aboriginal". At least it makes sense, whereas using "capitalization" to try to indicate to "uncapitalization" is pretty weird, really.--Tyranny Sue 05:25, 26 February 2010 (UTC)
I understand your point, but the wording isn't typed into this entry, it's embedded in the general-purpose template {{alternative capitalization of}}, which is used for terms in lower case, in mixed case, and in all capitals. The status of how a term is capitalized, or not, is known as its “capitalization,” so the wording is not wrong, although I can see how it might confuse a reader. I am open to suggestions for improving the template's wording. Michael Z. 2010-03-01 17:22 z
You might be tempted to split the template into {capitalized version of} and {lowercase version of}. But that would require creating a specific template for each obscure case: {initial-cap version of}, {all-caps version of}, {inner-caps version of}, {title-caps version of}, etc. Michael Z. 2010-03-02 18:56 z
With Hebrew form-of templates we eventually reached the limit of what can reasonably be front-loaded, and started putting information after the lemma-link in some cases. (See e.g. [[לו]], and compare it to the more Wiktionary-style "Third-person-masculine-singular-personal-pronoun-object-including form of ל־ (l'-).") It was very freeing. In the case at hand, we might consider something like:
  1. Alternative spelling of aboriginal, with different capitalization.
O.K., I admit that's pretty awkward, but maybe it's a starting-point for someone to think of a better idea? :-)
RuakhTALK 19:55, 2 March 2010 (UTC)
How about
  1. Alternative lower-case spelling of aboriginal.
 ? --TyrS 00:01, 3 March 2010 (UTC)
Well, firstly, it's the only lower-case spelling of aboriginal, so taken literally, it doesn't make sense to say it's an alternative lower-case spelling of said. And secondly, see Mzajac's last comment above. :-/   —RuakhTALK 01:07, 3 March 2010 (UTC)

True. I think I meant to put

  1. Lower-case spelling of Aboriginal.

Sorry about that. Would that also require a lot of stuffing around with templates?

“Lower-case” is not a spelling. Aboriginal and aboriginal have the same spelling. Lower-case is a capitalization. Michael Z. 2010-03-04 21:05 z
How about "Alternative letter-casing of ____"? —RuakhTALK 21:35, 4 March 2010 (UTC)
I think that has the right meaning, but sounds awkward to me. Perhaps because this casing is a verbal noun, but we don't “case” when we write. We do, however, selectively or variably capitalize.
Hmm, maybe our definition of capitalize needs to be expanded or adjusted.--TyrS 02:45, 5 March 2010 (UTC)
I can't find this definition of casing in any dictionary but ours (labelled computing). G-Books only finds about 18 instances of letter-casing or letter casing in this sense, 16 of them in computer programming. Michael Z. 2010-03-04 22:23 z
Maybe “Alternative letter case of ___” is better. (Note that case standing alone could be confused with grammatical case.)
But to me, case an absolute quality of a letter or uniform set of letters: upper or lower only. This comes from the etymology: a type compositor only had two physical cases to pick his types from. Initial caps is not a case, it is an example of mixed-case writing or typesetting, or capitalization. Michael Z. 2010-03-04 22:39 z
"Decapitalization of Aboriginal"?--TyrS 03:10, 5 March 2010 (UTC)
Not nicely symmetrical (Aboriginal isn't a "decapitalization" of aboriginal). I wouldn't object to "alternative casing", if "casing" is generally accepted to mean the obvious. Perhaps it isn't. Equinox 03:15, 5 March 2010 (UTC)
I think "Alternative case" (or "Alternative letter case") sounds better - I've never heard 'casing' used that way. Is it really an English verb with this meaning?--TyrS 03:57, 5 March 2010 (UTC)
Casing is only used as a verb by computer programmers; not by writers, editors, type compositors, or designers. One doesn't case a letter or word, one sets type in uppercase or lowercase. The OED defines case as a physical box for letter types, not as an abstract attribute of written text, and not even as an adjective, much less a verb.
Thinking on it more, I think case is just wrong. Individual letter types are stored in upper and lower type case – there are no other cases. Words and phrases do not come from a case but are composed of letters belonging to either or both cases. Words have a pattern of letter-case: all lowercase, all caps, small capitals, or mixed case, including initial caps and inner caps. Computing has come up with the corruptions “title case” and “camel case,” but these are not true to the definition of caseMichael Z. 2010-03-05 18:05 z
The OED may never have heard of computers, or of handwriting, but I have. And everyone else here has. Etymology is not destiny. —RuakhTALK 18:34, 5 March 2010 (UTC)
I'm not sure what you're saying about the OED, but it sounds like a strawman argument, or just plain wrong. (The OED is updated regularly.[2])
We should use the conventions of quality publishers and dictionaries, not the ad hoc improvisations of a few software manual and handbook writers. Michael Z. 2010-03-05 19:59 z
I don't know if I'm really saying anything about the OED: I haven't looked at the relevant entries yet. But you state, for example, that "[t]he OED defines case as a physical box for letter types, not as an abstract attribute of written text", even though obviously case is an abstract attribute of written text. So either the OED is wrong or out-of-date, or you're misreading it. —RuakhTALK 22:31, 5 March 2010 (UTC)
Upper-case and lower-case originate as attributive use of the noun case. A is an uppercase letter, but we wouldn't say that A's case is upper, or that it has a case of upper. Michael Z. 2010-03-05 22:48 z
We also wouldn't say "My car was driven by me to work this morning." That doesn't mean the passive-voice "be driven" is non-existent; it means only that that isn't a good example sentence to demonstrate it. But an example like this one is perfectly fine, and obviously terms like case-sensitive did not spring from the void. It's pretty rare that people want to talk about the case of a letter, but when they do, they use a word like "case". —RuakhTALK 23:12, 5 March 2010 (UTC)
BTW, -ing is not used only on verbs; I'm not sure where y'all got that idea. —RuakhTALK 22:34, 5 March 2010 (UTC)
Well, if casing is not a verb, then it's a verbal noun, no? Certainly the meaning of a protective covering or shell is separate from either a type compositor's case or abstracted letter case. Michael Z. 2010-03-05 22:48 z
No. At least, not necessarily. —RuakhTALK 23:12, 5 March 2010 (UTC)

Sounds to me like "Alternative letter case of aboriginal" (& its equivalent, "Alternative letter case of Aboriginal) might be the way to go.
(I just noticed that the Pedia entry on capitalization also makes our current template's wording look a bit odd.)--TyrS 01:09, 6 March 2010 (UTC)

But Aboriginal is not “a letter case”, or “in a letter case”. It is printed with letters of both cases. Ipod and iPod do not differ in the set of letter cases used to print them (that is, they are in mixed case); they differ in the pattern of capitalization.
The case is what an individual letter of type belongs to. Case is not an attribute of a word or phrase, and it is technically normally applied to typeset or printed material, not to writing in general (in handwriting, for example, it is better to use the more general terminology of capital and small letters). Michael Z. 2010-03-08 01:36 z
Sorry, but I think you're talking out of both sides of your mouth here. "Case" is not appropriate because it applies only to typeset letters? Fine. Then "capitalization" is not appropriate because, according to the OED, its only relevant sense is "The action of printing in capitals."[3] The fact is, both terms have evolved, and broadened, and both are used to fill what would otherwise be a gap in the language: the lack of a way to refer to the pattern of capital and small letters in text. —RuakhTALK 14:55, 8 March 2010 (UTC)
Maybe the OED's editors were giving the reader the benefit of having some judgment. Their quotations make it clear that that sense is intended, referring to the modern capitalization of an old text. If old an new capitalization differ, then clearly the text's “capitalization” doesn't refer only to a text that is in all caps. It means the pattern of capitalization, whether it be all caps, some caps, or no caps. Michael Z. 2010-04-13 16:21 z
OED's earliest usage citation is of notes about an 1843 edition of a 1500s play (there's also an 1864 reference to Webster's dictionary):
  • 1906 R. L. RAMSAY in Skelton's Magnyf. p. xx, The orthography is that of the original; punctuation and capitalization are modern.[4]
Obviously, the edition's “capitalization” doesn't mean that it is printed only in caps. We can infer that the “action of printing in capitals” has degrees and details (as indicated by the 3rd quotation: “details of [...] capitalization”).
(And my objection to “alternative case” is not that case is used chiefly with type. But that letter case is a binary attribute of individual letters. A word set in upper and lowercase, i.e. in mixed-case type, is set with letters of both cases; it can't be said to be “in an alternative case”.) Michael Z. 2010-04-19 04:51 z
Return to "aboriginal" page.