Tricky Words in this week's OVI
A lot. This is a very old word in English, going further back to Old Norse, Old High German and even Gothic. It is linked with the word "los" in Slovak, and "drawing
lots" means pulling straws (slamky) to find out who wins (this is why "remíza" is "a draw" in English). In English though, "lot" means the amount you can win, or the share of property you can get
when public assets are sold off, or your allocation in the case of restitution. This puts "lot" somewhere between "podiel" and "údel", because you can be "happy with your lot" in life, but you
might equally be "cursed with a cruel lot."
When areas of public land were divided up in the past for distribution to the public, people could get small gardens, especially alongside railroad tracks or on
hillsides, and these are called "allotments". People have a tendency to want more and more, so then the idea of "a lot" started to mean a large amount. In American English, though, "a lot" has also
kept its meaning as an area of land. A "city lot" could be derelict (abandoned and destroyed), but it might nevertheless be lucrative (able to produce large amounts of money), especially after it
is developed and improved. You can leave your car (automobile) in a parking lot (car-park in British English), carefully divided into individual parking spaces with neat white lines for certain
drivers to ignore.
In British English a specified area of land is called "a plot" (Slovak "parcela"), which looks very similar to "a lot", but it comes from the French word "plat" meaning "a flat area". Then there
developed the sense of "to plot" - "zakresliť" or "vyznačiť" the corners and boundary lines of the land. And then it's interesting that the Slovak word for the physical barrier around the
boundaries of an area of land is called "plot" ("oplotenie").
The question this week is: Why is the plural "s" not used after nouns (podstatné mená) in the middle of a string (šnúra, reťazec), even when they clearly have plural
meaning? When you say "a dollar bill" (bankovka), you mean one bill with the value of one dollar, but when you say "a ten-dollar bill", you mean one bill with the value of ten dollars, but you
still say "ten-dollar" even when you have five ten-dollar bills.
The point is that a typical feature of English is the ability of words to be used as nouns, verbs, adjectives or adverbs (but not always all of these) without changing
their form, so the main noun at the end of the string gets the plural "s", but the ones before it don't, to show that they are functioning as adjectives (prídavné mená - dolárová).
Please send questions about English language habits to email@example.com, and I will choose one to answer each week.