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Alive is probably one of the most misused words in the English language. If not the most misused, then it’s certainly in the top 100.

Most people—close to 100%—think that alive means to be living and/or to be vibrant. Nothing could be further from the truth. It means almost the exact opposite.

As was explained in the entry for the word alight, English language semantics dictate that placing “a” immediately in front of a word creates the negative of that word, as in asymmetric meaning not symmetric and atypical meaning not typical.

(As an adolescently jocular aside, it should be noted that the a in a-hole does not serve the same purpose. The hyphen blocks the a from ramming into the hole, thereby preventing it from creating the negative. So, a-hole doesn’t mean the absence of a hole, i.e. a solid. Instead, the hyphen takes the place of two missing letters, namely twins of the letter s. The funny part—funny for adolescent linguists—is that this usage is grammatically incorrect. The correct way to form a concatenation is with an apostrophe, not a hyphen. Linguists are very upset that most a’holes, and others, are so illiterate as to invariably get that wrong.)

But I digress. Because of the “a leading a creates the negative” rule, alive means not live. In other words, dead.

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