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Archiver > WORDS > 2000-03 > 0952827010

From: Lee Daniel Quinn <>
Subject: [WORDS] firstable
Date: Sat, 11 Mar 2000 21:10:10 -0500

I just received this. Any comments?


Here is this week's Wordwatch feature from the COBUILD WorldWide Web
site, delivered direct to you by e-mail.
See the web page at www.cobuild.collins.co.uk/wordwatch.html for the
full list of Wordwatch features.

Firstable (and secondable)

A query this week from a Wordwatcher in Italy:

I've found the word 'firstable' everywhere, but not in an English
dictionary. An English friend says that such a word doesn't exist.

I have to admit that I was initially completely baffled by this query,
having never come across `firstable' and having no idea what it might
mean. There are no citations of it in the 330 million word Bank of
English (most recent major update 1996), nor in the two big native
speaker dictionaries which I have to hand, both published last
year. However there are plenty of examples of its use on the Web, some
of which I reproduce here as found:

Firstable I need a model for the proton where can be it fixed in formula 6.

I am newly connected to the list, so I firstly present myself :
- firstable, excuse my awful frenchy english

I find [your argument] a little flawed. Firstable a sixteen or
seventeen year old at that age has not expirienced much in terms of
life expirience

What are the PIP benefits? Firstable a PIP insurance is...

Is this the right place for me to ask some questions about the
network simulator (ns)? Firstable, I would like to know if there are
methods to set a node, a link, or even an agent to randomly drop some

Our protocol, which is compatible with the IETF standard, provides
two main improvements over the IETF solution. Firstable, it is
hierarchical and differentiates micro-mobility from
macro-mobility. This approach improves the handoff performance,
reduces the signaling load and improves security. The second
improvement is a flexible management of the multiple interfaces of a
mobile host.

I think the citations make it clear that firstable means `first' or
`firstly', and my guess is that it arose as a variation on `first of
all'. While it is clear some of the writers quoted above are
non-native speakers, `firstable' is also used by people whose first
language is English, and seems to be favoured in technical/scientific
contexts. I wondered if there was a word `secondable' and sure enough
the Web yields a few examples of that too:

Firstable my /opt/bb13a/etc/bbdef.sh was not executable so I did a
chmod to make it executable.
Secondable after typing "set | grep DISP" I got nothing for
output. Just a blank line.

All this shows some interesting things about the way English is
changing. One is the influence of the Internet, where new words and
expressions can be introduced and catch on in an astonishingly short
space of time. The other is that - whatever my correspondent's English
friend may say - native speakers no longer have a monopoly over what
is and is not `English'. The word `firstable' clearly does exist, and
is being used, though I am not sure how widely - I haven't seen it yet
in any printed sources. And whether it is a misunderstanding (the
result of a mishearing of a standard English formulation), a perfectly
valid and useful word, or something in between, what is certain is
that if enough people start using it, then it will eventually become a
part of the language.

Lee Daniel Quinn <>
Have you ever wondered why just one letter makes all the
difference between here and there?
If evolution is outlawed, only outlaws will evolve.
but if
If marriage is outlawed, only outlaws will have inlaws.

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