3

What are their similarities and differences? The definitions on http://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/susceptible look similar: for example, A is 'influenced or affected' by B, if and only if, "A allows B". So same meaning?

I see that the examples containing + of connotes negativity, but does this imply anything (more profound)?

2

There are two fundamentally different uses of susceptible. For those who distinguish by preposition, the difference is as follows:

  1. Susceptible of roughly means capable of, admitting. Something can be susceptible of proof, of a solution, of division, of observation, of being considered, etc.
  2. Susceptible to roughly means able to be affected by. Something (or someone) can be susceptible to light, to disease, to infection, to poison, to attack, etc.

I said fundamentally different, but there is some overlap. E.g., a cake admits division if and only if it can be affected by a division. An organism is of course more likely to be affected by a poison if it admits it into itself. Such cases can be a vehicle for language change, as the border between what is acceptable and what isn't moves gradually.

The following is the result of my research with Google's ngram viewer.

Around 1800, of was almost universally used for both senses. However, there was already a small number of uses of to -- invariably in sense 2.

In the course of the 19th century, to became used more and more for sense 2, and in the end it was more common in that case. For light the tipping point was in the middle of the century, for disease around 1877, for infection around 1885.

There is a slow trend, starting around 1900, for to to take over sense 1 as well. With some words, of is still more popular than to: for application by a factor of 10, for proof by a factor of 2, for division by a smaller margin. With others, to seems to have won already, as it is now more popular than of: for observation by factor of 4 (more popular since around 1950), for a solution by a factor of 1.5 (more popular since 1960s/70s).

Conclusion: It's still best to distinguish senses 1 and 2 as described above. If you don't want to, follow the advice of the dictionaries that will appear a hundred years from now and use only to.

  • +1. Thank you effusively for your detail. Would you please explain or exemplify when 'susceptible of' markedly differ from 'susceptible to'? – Greek - Area 51 Proposal Oct 26 '14 at 10:38
  • Will you please to respond in your answer, and not as a comment? – Greek - Area 51 Proposal Oct 26 '14 at 10:39
1

There is no difference.

Google Ngrams shows that "susceptible to" has gradually been replacing "susceptible of" over the last 200 years, and I suspect that in another 50 years "susceptible of" will probably be gone. If there were a difference, "susceptible of" couldn't have gone from being 98% of the uses in 1800 to being 8% of the uses today. British and American English don't seem to differ much in this respect.

  • 1
    I think your conclusion is a little strong. Currently both are still in use and some people do distinguish. There is a clear preference for susceptible to infection, but susceptible of application is still about ten times as common in the Google corpus as susceptible to application. – user86291 Jul 30 '14 at 11:43
0

I'm inclined to agree with Peter Shor that there is no meaningful difference between "susceptible to" and "susceptible of" as most people use these phrases today. According to Fowler/Gowers, Modern English Usage, Second Edition (1965), however, the preposition changes the meaning:

The difference between sensible of, sensitive to, and susceptible to, is roughly that sensible of expresses emotional consciousness, sensitive to acute feeling, and susceptible to quick reaction to stimulus: profoundly, gratefully, painfully, regretfully, sensible of; acutely, delicately, excessively, absurdly, sensitive to; readily, often, scarcely, susceptible to. With of the meaning of susceptible is different; it is equivalent to admitting or capable. A passage susceptible of more than one interpretation; an assertion not susceptible of proof.

Interestingly, Margaret Nicholson, A Dictionary of American-English Usage (1957), which adapts the first edition of Fowler for a mid-twentieth-century U.S. audience, jettisons Fowler's distinction between "susceptible to" and "susceptible of":

The difference between sensible of, sensitive to, & susceptible to or of, is roughly that sensible of expresses emotional consciousness, sensitive to acute feeling, & susceptible to or of quick reaction to stimulus: profoundly, gratefully, painfully, regretfully, sensible of; acutely, delicately, excessively, absurdly, sensitive to; readily, often, scarcely, susceptible to or of.

So the possibilities are that U.S. English lost the distinction earlier than British English did (assuming that British English has indeed lost it at this point), or that U.S. English never had the distinction whereas British English did, or that Nicholson was mistaken in equating the two phrases in her book, or that Fowler was mistaken in distinguishing between them in his.

Of possible relevance to the original division between "susceptible of" and "susceptible to" are these two entries in John Walker, A Critical Pronouncing Dictionary and Expositor of the English Language (1858):

Susceptible. a. Capable of admitting.

Susceptive. a. Capable to admit.

Both of these terms (and their definitions) appear in Walker's dictionary unchanged from the way they appeared in Samuel Johnson's dictionary of 1756. Evidently, for more than a century, English speakers could choose between "susceptible of" and "susceptive to."

  • +1. Thank you effusively for your detail. Would you please explain or exemplify when 'susceptible of' markedly differ from 'susceptible to'? – Greek - Area 51 Proposal Oct 26 '14 at 10:38
  • Will you please to respond in your answer, and not as a comment? – Greek - Area 51 Proposal Oct 26 '14 at 10:40
-1

Susceptible OF ridicule. Capable of being ridiculed.

Susceptible TO ridicule would mean could catch ridicule as one catches a disease.

  • For "of", you just repeat what the dictionary already says -- that doesn't help explain it. And I don't understand what you mean by your "to" example. If something is susceptible to ridicule, that means it has the potential to be ridiculed (which sounds a lot like your "of" example). It doesn't mean that it will get ridiculed because the things around it are being ridiculed and not washing their hands enough. Ridicule isn't transmitted like disease so I don't understand your analogy. – David Richerby Feb 12 '18 at 12:08

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