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Resident : Residence seems like the normal pairing to me. Residency isn't exactly unknown (see here), but it's far less common.

But with President the derivatives are reversed and then some. Presidency is virtually universal. I'm not sure Presidence even qualifies as a word, outside of misspellings for precedence.

Why is this?

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You probably want to read this. What I'm saying is that, fundamentally, it's a really big question :) – Kosmonaut Apr 19 '11 at 2:03
@Kosmonaut: Hmmm. I probably want to read several thousand such weighty tomes, and have all the information contained therein instantly accessible to my thoughts. Ideally I'd like all the dope squirted directly into my brain to save the time & trouble of actually doing the reading. In the real world, I was kinda hoping EL&U would save me the trouble (we could all read just one book each, and share what we know). – FumbleFingers Apr 19 '11 at 2:23
@FumbleFingers: FWIW, I attempted to give you an answer. The book link is mostly to show you that this is something people are writing entire books on in an attempt to make sense of it. – Kosmonaut Apr 19 '11 at 2:26
Actually, I shouldn't be so flip. Time permitting I probably will want to read that one. Certainly I appreciate the link. – FumbleFingers Apr 19 '11 at 2:26
@FumbleFingers: Actually, if you really wanted to get a basic feel for the subject matter, you would probably be better off checking out the Aronoff book (What is Morphology?) and looking at the section on productivity. Much easier to get through. Bauer's book is probably way more in-depth than you would want. – Kosmonaut Apr 19 '11 at 2:30
up vote 11 down vote accepted

Morphology is often "messy" in this way.


One big reason is probably because there was no need for a semantically distinct word presidence. Though it does not occur 100% of the time, there is a strong effect that is often referred to as blocking (coined in Aronoff 1976, defined here in Aronoff 2005):

Blocking: the process by which a potential word is prevented from occurring in a language because another form with the same meaning and function already exists.

(The mechanism for blocking depends on your linguistic framework — what is important is that the phenomenon exists, whether you call it "blocking" or something else.)

The words residence and residency actually mean different things. That one meaning took the form residence while the other took residency is almost certainly arbitrary, as the semantic distinction between -ce and -cy forms can't be generalized across words. But since each word had a semantic niche to fill, each word was able to become established in the lexicon. (And, with both words established, it might be possible for someone to occasionally substitute the word residence for residency or vice-versa, for whatever reason.)

As for presidence, what might it mean that is distinct from presidency? The fact that there is no answer is probably why such a word does not currently exist. It could, in theory, come into existence (existency? :) some day, should the need arise; there is nothing actually preventing its existence.

Etymological differences

The last question that remains is, if only one word is needed then why should it have been presidency to begin with and not presidence? The answer is probably because of the differing origins of residence and presidency.

Residence entered into English directly from French. This -ence form is common in French; in fact, the word for presidency in French is presidence.

Presidency entered into English by way of post-classical Latin. So, we anglicized the Latin word praesidentia without letting the French get in the middle (as they often do) and throw away a bunch of sounds at the end of the word. So, praesidentia became English presidencie and later presidency.

Once they became part of the English lexicon, principles like blocking probably kept them organized as they currently are.

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This is an excellent answer. What I still don't get is why it didn't go the other way around (i.e. - no need for a semantically distinct word presidency). Assuming residence was always the more common derivative, why didn't people just start with presidence. Could it just be a wish to steer well clear of associations with precedence? Or do we have to accept that it's 'just one of those things'? – FumbleFingers Apr 19 '11 at 2:36
@FumbleFingers: Actually, I think it could be any of those reasons. It is definitely possible that presidence was too close to precedence, giving presidency the edge. However, you just gave me a thought that I will incorporate into the answer. – Kosmonaut Apr 19 '11 at 2:43
You are a gentleman and a scholar. And a true asset to this site. – FumbleFingers Apr 19 '11 at 2:52

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