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I know one says an act of desperation, but I've heard desperacy much more than I've ever heard desperation, it's like I've almost never heard desperation.

Why exactly was desperation preferred over desperacy and is there a pattern to noun adjectives ending with -ate?

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Whereabouts did you hear it, and how do they pronounce it? DESP'raCEE? DesPAIR-uh-cy? Desp-uh-RAYcy? –  Mr Lister Nov 3 '12 at 15:45
    
desperacy desperation desperate + -cy merriam-webster.com/dictionary/desperacy –  Kris Nov 3 '12 at 15:46
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It ain't cause it ain't. –  Mitch Nov 3 '12 at 15:46
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What Mitch says in his comment, and what tchrist explains in his answer, is a very basic morphological principle called blocking. –  RegDwigнt Nov 3 '12 at 16:27
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I'd bet a dollar the OP has heard "disparity", not "desperacy". Or that it is an ESL usage. –  MετάEd Nov 3 '12 at 16:50
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2 Answers

Desperacy is “not a word”1 because just plain despair alone plenty suffices as a noun, without any redundantly tedious nominalizationalizing suffixes and postfixes and add-on-the-enders.

The take-away lesson here is that sometimes, perhaps even often, it is far better to trim things off instead of tack them on.


  1. That is, not a word attested2 by the Oxford English Dictionary.

  2. That is, not a word attested as being current in contemporary English.
    However, the OED does attest an obsolete word †ˈdesperacy,
    and for which it provides no citation later than from the 18th century.


As for the second part of your question, here are some attested triples that may interest you:

  • adequacy, adequate, adequation
  • advocacy, advocate, advocation
  • alternacy, alternate, alternation
  • articulacy, articulate, articulation
  • automacy, automate, automation
  • complicacy, complicate, complication
  • confederacy, confederate, confederation
  • conjugacy, conjugate, conjugation
  • degeneracy, degenerate, degeneration
  • delegacy, delegate, delegation
  • determinacy, determinate, determination
  • effeminacy, effeminate, effemination
  • episcopacy, episcopate, episcopation
  • illegitimacy, illegitimate, illegitimation
  • inadequacy, inadequate, inadequation
  • inarticulacy, inarticulate, inarticulation
  • inchoacy, inchoate, inchoation
  • indeterminacy, indeterminate, indetermination
  • inebriacy, inebriate, inebriation
  • inordinacy, inordinate, inordination
  • intermediacy, intermediate, intermediation
  • intestacy, intestate, intestation
  • intimacy, intimate, intimation
  • itineracy, itinerate, itineration
  • legitimacy, legitimate, legitimation
  • lunacy, lunate, lunation
  • numeracy, numerate, numeration
  • obduracy, obdurate, obduration
  • oracy, orate, oration
  • prelacy, prelate, prelation
  • privacy, private, privation
  • profligacy, profligate, profligation
  • prolificacy, prolificate, prolification
  • regeneracy, regenerate, regeneration
  • reprobacy, reprobate, reprobation
  • subordinacy, subordinate, subordination
  • surrogacy, surrogate, surrogation
  • testacy, testate, testation
  • ultimacy, ultimate, ultimation
  • unregeneracy, unregenerate, unregeneration
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+1 for nominalizationalizing. I had always thought that was spelled nominalizationalitizing. –  Robusto Nov 3 '12 at 16:06
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Interesting that in several cases both the noun forms are common and mean different things (dengeneracy/degeneration; illegitimacy/illegitimation; intimacy/intimation; numeracy/numeration; privacy/privation; and probably others) –  Andrew Leach Nov 3 '12 at 16:49
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There is a significant difference between despair and desperation. Despair is a paralyzing grief. Desperation is a "nothing left to lose" willingness for extreme acts. While they both refer to a similar situation (dire hopelessness), they describe quite opposite attitudes. I wonder where would that put desperacy on the scale. –  SF. Nov 3 '12 at 22:49
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I wonder where the OP has heard desperacy much more than desperation.

The OED says:

desperacy, n. Obs.

Etymology: < desperate adj., n., and adv.: see ‑acy suffix.

Desperateness, desperation.

  • 1629 J. Gaule Practique Theories Christs Predict. 11
    Downe to the nethermost depth beyond recouerie: Let vs there take our portion of desperacie.
  • 1798 Ann. Reg. (Otridge ed.) Hist. Europe 155/2
    Such deeds of desperacy and revenge.
  • 1800 W. E. J. Obi 231
    Deeds of desperacy and cruelty.

which suggest that it was a used word, about two centuries ago. Ngram can find no example, nor can Google Books, nor can COCA.

It is not that that desperacy is not an English word. It is not a current English word.

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You’re right: I was discounting the obsoleted words by default. –  tchrist Nov 3 '12 at 17:38
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