A teacher claimed, but forgot, the Ancient Greek term that describes adjectives used passively, as used in the following sentence:

The weather has been in a most curious state here since Wednesday.

The teacher emphasised his use of curious NOT to mean 'strange', but to mean a state that MAKES one curious (ie: inquisitive, solicitous). Does anyone know this term (of causation)?

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    Why do you say this is "used passively"? There's no passive I can see.
    – jlawler
    Aug 10, 2015 at 1:21
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    @jlawler That teacher said that, not I. But I can ask him for more details?
    – user5306
    Aug 10, 2015 at 1:54
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    By the way, even if there is an Ancient Greek term for it, that does not describe it -- it merely names it, which is not description. A description allows identification by observation, whereas a name is just an arbitrary label, with no value unless it is known to and used by everyone in the same way. Note that the Ancient Greeks did not speak English, and had a number of quaint ideas about how language works, and Greek in particular, so most of their terms don't fit English grammar very well.
    – jlawler
    Aug 10, 2015 at 18:38
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    I dispute your teacher's claim that in that sentence curious means causing curiosity as opposed to being strange. He may have intended the former, but his interlocutors will universally understand him to mean the latter. Of course, for those people prone to curiosity, strange behavior or anomalous observations will provoke it -- by definition.
    – Dan Bron
    Aug 11, 2015 at 12:34

1 Answer 1


Metonymy (from a Greek word meaning "change of name") is the best term I know of for this type of semantic development. It means that the meaning of a word transfers or extends to something that is closely associated with the original meaning. In this case, the meaning of the term curious expanded from describing a mental state (inquisitiveness) to describing things that cause that mental state.

I know that metonymy is not quite as specific a term as you are looking for, because it does not refer exclusively to the change "mental state -> causer of the mental state". But, I am not sure that such a specific term exists (yet).

  • Thanks. I'll ask my teacher whether this is the right term.
    – user5306
    Aug 11, 2015 at 19:31

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