prerogative

Say this word.

No, no, say it the way you would normally say it (inasumuch as you would normally say it) in a sentence. “Well, that’s your prerogative.”

We know how it’s supposedly pronounced: /pri rɑ gə tɪv/. That’s what we think is called for. But I can tell you how I say it most of the time: [pr̥rɑ gə ɾɪv]. The first two syllables collapse into a sesquisyllable at most; the aspiration of the /p/ devoices the /r/, but then it runs at least briefly into a voiced /r/, having utterly ditched the first vowel. And of course as is usual in North American English, the intervocalic /t/ is flapped – it sounds more like a [d], though it’s not actually that either.

It’s that retroflex /r/ of ours, making the tongue hunch upwards like a cat stretching itself. Words like rural are more exercise than they should be. It can seem an undignified sound, but I find it wry, curling, almost purring. I do like languages that use it: many dialects of Irish, some versions of Dutch, Mandarin Chinese, some versions of English…

Well, de gustibus non est disputandum: there’s no arguing about taste. What you like is your prerogative. And what I like is my prerogative. Just as my choice of dialect and accent is my prerogative. No sweeping it under the rug.

So, now, about this word prerogative: where does it come from, anyway? Jim Taylor, who suggested this word, had the following thoughts in his email to me:

Pre- is easy, ‘before’.

-rogative? Apparently to do with writing something, perhaps on a shard of pottery in Athens, for a vote. But rogation is also a litany of the saints. Rogation Sunday, I vaguely recall, has something to do with agriculture. And then there’s rogue, which doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the other definitions above.

And, of course, roger, with a soft g, connoting the use of an appendage that is no longer soft.

(Does that seem a touch off-colour? Uncalled for? Well, that’s Jim’s prerogative – and mine.)

But what does this rogative come from? It looks odd so bald, sans prefix – it seems to need some lexical Rogaine. If not pre, how about inter? Of course. Interrogative – is that the question? Yes. The root is Latin rogare, ‘ask’. The original meaning of prerogative is ‘prior choice’ or ‘prior election’ – or, more to the point, ‘preordination’ or ‘inherent advantage’. Your prerogative was your talent, your advantage, your superpower.

Now, of course, your prerogative is your say-so. If something is your prerogative, that means you get to decide. You are not beholden to anyone else on that score. It’s your right. You’re king of that thing, or queen of that scene. No one else is the boss of you. This comes to us by way of royal prerogative – the “divine right” of kings and queens.

It’s sort of like being a cat: master of all you survey, and entirely free to ignore all and sundry at your leisure. Your purr-rogative.

One response to “prerogative

  1. Reminds me of the time you punned this word in your prorogue post.

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