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English seems to create normal/not normal divisions. For instance: Paranormal Supernatural Extraterrestrial

I'll call these compound comparisons. To me this seems to be very problematic in may ways. One is that there are many unusual things that are never described as paranormal, supernatural etc. Take human pregnancy for instance. I'd be very hard pressed to argue with someone who said that pregnancy is paranormal or supernatural. Yet that use never occurs.

So my point is that the English language has not found a good way of creating and applying such compound comparisons. In fact the English language applies them in ways that are seriously flawed. That makes me think: do other languages use compound comparisons in a better way? For instance they could say that pregnancy is supernatural or whatever word they use for it? Is English the odd language out that uses compound comparisons to be so limited?

closed as unclear what you're asking by Draconis, curiousdannii, Keelan, Jeremy Needle, bytebuster Jul 3 at 11:28

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    Why would you consider pregnancy "supernatural"? It's hard to think of something more natural than reproduction. – Draconis Jul 3 at 5:33
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    …with all due respect, what? Hormonal levels change a lot, absolutely, but if you're talking solely about biological sex, then chromosomes, genital structure, all the secondary characteristics, etc etc aren't affected at all. If you don't consider pregnancy natural, where do you think baby mammals come from in the wild? – Draconis Jul 3 at 5:39
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    …dude. Saying pregnancy is natural isn't censorship. This SE has a specific purview, and questions outside that purview will be closed, that's just how it works. – Draconis Jul 3 at 5:50
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    Since your question seems to be in good faith I am going to offer some advice on how to use this site. Linguistics is the science of the phenomena of human language. By "research" we mean listing what sources you have consulted prior to asking here, for example references to scientific literature. People not familiar with linguistics sometimes believe it's just "philosophizing about language", but there is a vast body of documented knowledge underlying the discipline. If you're new to linguistics you may have to do some reading to improve your questions.... (cont.) – Mark Beadles Jul 3 at 10:24
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    ...otherwise, you question as currently stated is comparable to going to Physics.SE and asking "Does my personal theory on time travel work?" People are going to be disinclined to answer your question if you haven't done the basic background on the scientific principles of the field. Don't take the downvotes personally - they simply mean that the community doesn't find your question as currently stated to be useful to other users. – Mark Beadles Jul 3 at 10:30
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I'm going to have to frame-challenge this one. (This would be a comment, but it's too long for the character limit.)

In particular, this line:

English seems to create normal/not normal divisions. For instance: Paranormal Supernatural Extraterrestrial

Para-, super-, and extra- are all Greek/Latin prefixes; out of the three, super- is the only one that's stayed productive in English with its original Latin meaning intact. It comes from the Latin word for "above", and when applied to an English word it means something like "above and beyond". Superhuman strength is above and beyond human strength, supersonic speed is above and beyond sonic speed (the speed of sound), and a supercomputer is above and beyond a normal computer.

(Edit to add: it can also mean literally "above" sometimes, which is the literal meaning in Latin: a superscript is above the normal script, for instance.)

By this reasoning, something is supernatural if it's above and beyond what's natural. Werewolves, for example, defy our understanding of nature (biology in particular), so they're supernatural creatures. Pregnancy certainly doesn't defy our understanding of nature: it's well-understood biologically, and happens in mammal species all across the world as well as in humans.

Similarly, extra- in Latin means "outside"; in English it means "extremely", back-derived from extraordinary (beyond what is ordinary). Extraterrestrial uses the Latin meaning: something that is outside (extra) the earth (terra). So life on Mars would be extraterrestrial, but human pregnancy wouldn't be, unless it e.g. happened during one of the Apollo missions.

Paranormal, finally, uses a Greek prefix that didn't catch on in English quite as much as super- did; it means "beside" or "apart from". So something paranormal is separate from what is normal. In English, it's shifted to mean specifically "separate from our usual understanding of what is normal", so similar to supernatural. Since pregnancy is a well-understood part of biology, it's not paranormal in that sense either.

In other words, the only one of those words that explicitly separates "normal" from "not normal" is paranormal, which…is derived specifically from the word "normal", and in modern usage is closer to follows our understanding of nature versus doesn't follow our understanding of nature. It's not a flaw in English: it's words meaning pretty much exactly what you'd expect from their constituent parts. The words for "not following the laws of nature as we understand them" in other languages, like French innaturel and German unnäturlich, have basically the same meaning and similarly wouldn't apply to pregnancy.

  • There is so much wrong with that that I don't know where to start. Unlike some otehr people I won't down vote. Pregnancy has multiple things like miscarriage and ectopic pregnanacy that are not good and not understood or preventable. – Snack_Food_Termite Jul 3 at 6:06
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    @Snack_Food_Termite Just because something's not always good, doesn't make it not natural. Getting pneumonia isn't good but it's still natural. You still haven't answered: what do you think is the "natural" way for mammals to reproduce, if not pregnancy? – Draconis Jul 3 at 6:13
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    @Snack_Food_Termite I think you're confused about what the words mean, in that case. "Supernatural" doesn't mean "unusual". As you yourself say in the question, English speakers as a whole would not call pregnancy supernatural. Words have meaning only by the consensus of the language's speakers, and the English consensus is that a thing cannot be both natural and supernatural. – Draconis Jul 3 at 6:24
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    @Snack_Food_Termite I'm saying the consensus is right, because that's how language works. The millions and millions of English speakers in the world agree that the definition of supernatural does nor include pregnancy, and the word "supernatural" gets its meaning from that consensus. – Draconis Jul 3 at 6:57
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    @RobertColumbia Good point! I'll add a note. – Draconis Jul 5 at 21:32

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