Saturday, October 06, 2012

Getting All Proper

Miriam writes,  “I came across a reference to a proper name. What would be an example of an improper name? Would it be a nickname or a vulgarity?”

Like so many words in our language, “proper” has layers of meaning. Often, we must revert to context to determine which multiple meaning is involved.

You are matching the meaning decent or respectable to its opposite, improper. In this case, proper means “one’s own,” and its opposite would be something like “common” or “widespread.” It comes from the Latin proprius, one’s own.

In grammar, a proper noun refers to a specific person, place, product, etc. Traditionally, proper nouns are capitalized. A common noun applies to all individuals in a category, and it is not capitalized. Man would be a common noun or name; Thomas would be a proper name.

Other meanings attached to proper are immaculate, capable, elegant, private, decorous, authentic, respectable, normal, admirable, and complete.

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