Learning languages can be a really exciting way to learn about a different culture, its country, and its people. However, language can also pose several challenges due to the fact that languages often do not follow their own rules. Anyone who has ever studied a second or even third language can attest to the fact that grammatical rules can be the most difficult part to learn, from complicated verb tenses to noun declensions that cover both singular, plural, gender, and case, to the lists of pronouns that older languages like Latin supply. In short, grammar is difficult.
The English language is widely considered to be one of the most difficult languages to learn just based on the fact that it tends to struggle with following most of its own rules. Part of the reason for this is that English borrows (or just completely steals) most of its grammar from other languages. English is an etymological mashup of several different languages, which causes several common grammar mistakes.
In this article, let’s explore our word of the day, “cul de sac” (pronounced ˈkʌldəˌsæk), learn its proper use, its acceptable plurals, look for its synonyms, and learn its etymology and context.
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To first understand a word, its history, and how to use it properly, it is important to first define what it actually means. According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, the definition of cul-de-sac is “a blind diverticulum or porch,” or “a street or passage closed at one end.” There are only three definitions of a cul-de-sac, and they are limited to nouns regarding a closed or segregated street area that usually ends in a curve. It is generally the same in both American English and British English.
The correct plural of cul-de-sac is cul-de-sacs and is used to describe whenever there is more than one of any particular instance of a cul-de-sac. This is the dictionary definition of the plural, and there may well be more depending on the locality or availability of certain words. Another accepted form may be the plural culs-de-sac depending on whether or not you are speaking to a Canadian or someone else with any type of French background.
When asking whether or not something is a real word, what you are really asking is whether or not people use it often enough for it to be considered correct. The reason for this distinction is that language is directed by culture, not the other way around. The words people use in common conversation eventually become correct even if they are not considered correct by a dictionary. For example, the word selfie was added to several dictionaries a few years ago due to its prevalence in context and in culture.
The dictionary cannot be the definitive authority on all of language, so learn your audience and how they communicate, and you will be just fine.
The History and Origin of the Word
One of the best ways to understand a word is to learn where it came from. A word’s etymology can reveal a lot about the changes a word has gone through to get to where it is today in modern English. According to EtymOnline.com, the word cul-de-sac actually gets its roots from French. The original French word is “cul-de-sac” as well, and literally is translated the “bottom of a sack” or “bottom of the bag.” This French term, in turn, gets its etymological origin from the Latin word “culus” which means bottom, backside, or fundament.
The majority of nouns in modern English can trace their origin and roots all the way back to Latin or Greek, whereas the majority of verbs (especially those with irregular forms) are typically western European, Old English, or Germanic in origin.
Examples of the Word in Context
Another great way to learn how to use a word is to explore the word being used correctly. Either reading the word in its proper context or hearing someone else use it in conversation. Here are some common example sentences of the word “cul-de-sac” in conversation:
“That new house in New York would be perfect for the kids to play in and around because of its location on a quiet cul-de-sac! There will be less vehicular traffic, and so it will be safer.”
“The neighborhood is a series of main streets with cul-de-sacs branching off in all different directions, covering almost all the square acreage of the property being developed.”
“Do you live on a cul-de-sac? It should be easy to find your house if you can just give me the number.”
Synonyms for Cul de sac
Finally, to really solidify a word into your vocabulary, it is useful to explore words in a thesaurus with similar or same definitions. The more words you know that can fit into a specific context, the easier it will be to remember which ones to use. Here are some synonyms for the word cul-de-sac:
Street: this word describes the general concept that the word cul-de-sac makes more specific. All cul-de-sacs are streets, but not all streets are cul-de-sacs
Dead-End Street: this word describes another type of street or area with no outlet
Blind alley: this word describes a small side street with no exit that is very difficult to spot
At the end of the day, the words you choose to communicate are specific to your audience. Choosing the right voice and perspective to communicate to your audience is the best thing you can do. If picking a different word or phrase with an easier to remember plural form or that is just less complicated seems like it would be less problematic, choose that route instead. By reading this article, however, you should be prepared to use the word cul-de-sac and its plural form in any context, written or spoken. Good luck!
Kevin Miller is a growth marketer with an extensive background in Search Engine Optimization, paid acquisition and email marketing. He is also an online editor and writer based out of Los Angeles, CA. He studied at Georgetown University, worked at Google and became infatuated with English Grammar and for years has been diving into the language, demystifying the do's and don'ts for all who share the same passion! He can be found online here.