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Saw the title of the movie where minions come out - "Despicable Me" - I was curious, as despicable has the suffix -able, what would be its verb form? Then, I thought, is it de-spice? Which made me read it de-spice-able.

However, after looking up the dictionary, I found that its verb form is despise and it is pronounced de-spik-able. Isn't it okay to use "despisable?" How did this happen? Are there more adjectives like this?

Thanks.

  • practice and practical? – Peter Shor Feb 24 '15 at 18:32
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    This happened because Latin C turned into French S and that turned, eventually, into English /z/, all in certain places and not others, like sounds do. But the original Latin word was borrowed with the original C to stick -able onto. There are millions of stories like this, btw; several for each word in the language. – John Lawler Feb 24 '15 at 18:36
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    It can be worse. Verbs ending in -ate often lose the ending when turned into adjectives: communicate/communicable, operate/operable, penetrate/penetrable. But not always : illustrate/illustratable, locate/locatable. – WhatRoughBeast Jul 13 '15 at 3:51
  • @JohnLawler But... but... that's the answer. How am I supposed to upvote your answer if you've not made it an answer!? – Tucker Jul 8 '16 at 10:19
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I have never heard ‘despisable’ used in educated British English. Although I do not accept web or word-processor spelling dictionaries as authorities, they do reflect a view of contemporary usage, and the web browser I am using as I write this (Safari, Mac, UK) underlines it as a misspelling. However, consulting two British printed dictionaries I find both words listed.

Chambers (1993 edition)

despicable adj deserving to be despised…

despise to look down upon with contempt, scorn, hate — adj despisable

Oxford English Dictionary (1928)

despicable…1. to be looked down upon or despised, vile, base, contemptible

despisable…1. to be despised or treated with contempt; contemptible, despicable. Now rare.

The first quoted use of despisable is 1340, whereas that of despicable is 1553.

Conclusions

  1. The two words have identical meanings.
  2. ‘despisable’ is the original word that was displaced by ‘despicable’ to the extent that it is now uncommon in educated British use.

Recommendation

Use ‘despicable’. It is perfectly correct and will be much more familiar to your readers as it is much more widely used than ‘despisable’.

  • I have updated my answer in response to the mark-down. If whoever marked it down still finds fault with it, I would be obliged if he could let me know why. Otherwise I would suggest that he consider reversing his decision. – David Jul 11 '16 at 9:22
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According to Dictionary.com, both "despicable" and "despisable" are acceptable, however "despicable" tends to mean deserving to be despised.

  • Also note the difference between "despicable" and "despised". – Hot Licks Jul 13 '15 at 1:32

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