Each week here at the Australian Writers’ Centre, we dissect and discuss, contort and retort, ask and gasp at the English language and all its rules, regulations and ridiculousness. It’s a celebration of language, masquerading as a passive-aggressive whinge about words and weirdness. This week, we’re charged up as we discuss pronunciation…
Q: Hi AWC, do you know what I was just listening to in the car?
A: The podcast So you want to be a writer?
Q: No, but that’s an excellent idea actually. It was Eminem’s song “Lose Yourself“…
A: So is that why you were late?
Q: No, my GPS broke. Sorry.
A: Does your question have something to do with Eminem this week?
Q: Well, not entirely, but it sounds very similar – I saw someone had written about certain “imminent scholars” on their blog, and it seemed odd.
A: Ah, yes – a common mistake. And unless those scholars were about to arrive at the door, that person really should have said “eminent scholars”…
Q: I suppose they do sound quite similar…
A: Hardly a defence. If that were all that were required, we’d all be working out at the jam and driving about in toy Yodas.
Q: Not vehicular, they are.
A: Exactly. “Imminent” and “eminent” are, however, both adjectives. “Imminent” means that something is physically nearby or about to happen. For example, “her departure was imminent” or “the floodwaters were imminent”.
Q: And eminent?
A: That’s what your blog writer probably wanted – it means famous or respected or notable, especially in a certain area. For example, “Dr Dre is an eminent rapping collaborist, famous for his work with Eminem and others.”
Q: Is Dr Dre a real doctor?
A: Yes, he has his own dental practice, replacing normal teeth with gold ones for rap stars.
Q: Oh. So, which of “imminent” or “eminent” is more common?
A: Well, if you check Google’s “ngram” tool (it’s fun – google it!), it will show that they’re about the same these days, but “eminent” used to be far more common.
Q: What about pre-eminent? I’ve heard that a bit.
A: Indeed – and that is simply the superior form of “eminent”. It’s an “an” versus “the” scenario.
Q: How do you mean?
A: Someone can be “an” eminent professor of vexillology, but there will only be one who’s the best – “THE” pre-eminent professor of vexillology.
Q: Vexillology? Sorry, my interest is beginning to flag.
A: Nice. And by the way, you can say “pre-eminent” or “preeminent” – with or without the hyphen. It’s a style thing.
Q: Alright. That’s those two. But what about “immanent”?
A: Yes, another “sounds like” one – and certainly MUCH less common than “imminent”. It means “inherent or indwelling” – perhaps in the context of inner beauty. But generally, to avoid confusion, most writers will just use “inherent”.
Q: And all these adjectives have noun versions too?
A: Absolutely. Imminence, eminence, pre-eminence and immanence.
Q: I sense that the end of this chat is imminent.
A: The clock’s run out, time’s up, over, blaow!
Q: Very nice. You had one shot, one opportunity.
A: It may be the only opportunity we get.
Q: Okay, enough. Thanks for that, I’d better get back to the car. It’s 8 miles home and Mum’s making spaghetti.
A: You better go and capture that moment. See you next week. [Mic drop.]
Do you have a grammar gripe or punctuation puzzle that you’d like our Q&A to explore this year? Email it to us today!