elative

All motion is relative. And all relatives are emotional. Some are easily carried away. Some carry others away easily. When the season demands seeing relations, expect occasional elations along with levity. But while some will choose to be elated, others may find elation less elevating and, as the day grows late, may seek the elative (and perhaps the elevator).

And if those relatives are Finnish or Estonian, then ever the more so will you have their elatives. Elative, you see, is a case in such languages as those – along with illative, ablative, prolative, and translative, and abessive, adessive, and inessive – and instructive, and more. Things we in English do with prepositions and word order, they in Finno-Ugric languages do with suffixes (case endings) on nouns. If something is moving towards, into, out of, or away from something, or is becoming something or staying something – in short, if noun A has some particular relation to noun B – that relationship will be expressed by means of these noun cases rather than by any added words. So in Finnish, Mä otin lasin kaapista means ‘I took a glass out of the cupboard’, with kaapista meaning ‘out of the cupboard’ – the sta part is the ending that says it’s in the elative. The reverse direction is illative.

So why elative? Is it that Finns are very happy to get out of places? I won’t say that’s not true, but in this case the elation is not extreme happiness. It’s just e as in egress and eject and e pluribus unum – it means ‘out of’ or ‘away from’ – and lat as in ablate, translate, relate, and, yes, elate: it refers to taking or carrying. A person who is elated is, etymologically, carried away – or anyway taken away, transported. In the usual sense this means transported to joy, even ecstasy (a word that comes from Greek for ‘standing outside’), but in the grammatical sense it just means what you do to a glass when you reach into the cupboard and take it to go put something in it (which will be illative).

So if you find yourself with relatives who are very taken with you, but you would rather be taken from them, you can simply say “I’m feeling elative!” and leave it – withdraw with your glass for some illation of libation and illuminating liberation.

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