《明報》名人教英文

過度與不足

15/3/2011 《明報》 名人教英文

公立醫院醫生舉行申訴大會,指醫院人手嚴重不足、工作量過大,經常要超時工作。報道說:Public hospitals are understaffed and medical wards are overcrowded.

Doctors complain they are overworked and underpaid.

這段文字裏有幾個以over-或under- 為前綴的字:overcrowded 過度擠迫、overworked 工作過勞、understaffed 人手不足、underpaid 待遇過低。

這兩個意義相反的前綴,十分常見。許多形容詞、動詞或名詞,前面加上over 或under,便得到帶有「過量」和「不足」兩個相反含義的字。例如一個地方人口過多和過少, 叫overpopulated 和underpopulated;教育程度過高和偏低是overeducated 和undereducated;資歷過高和偏低是overqualified和underqualified;人手過剩和不足叫overstaffed 和understaffed; 超重和過輕叫overweight 和underweight。

高估可叫overestimate 或overrate, 相反詞是underestimate 或underrate。把食物煮得太熟叫overcook,煮得不夠熟叫undercook。成就高於一般叫overachieve,相反叫underachieve。使用過多是overuse, 使用不足是underuse。收費過高是overcharge, 收費過低是undercharge。

過了頭的說法叫overstatement,輕描淡寫的說法是understatement。例如:To say that this artefact is a work of art would be an overstatement,說話者認為他面前那件東西根本稱不上藝術品。或者: To say that his writings were popular would be an understatement, 「流行」一詞不足以形容他的作品。

有的表示「過度」的字,並沒有相應的表示「不足」的相反詞。例如overcautious(過分小心) 、overconfident ( 過分自信) 、overgenerous ( 過分慷慨)、overoptimistic(過分樂觀) 、overzealous ( 過分熱心)等。財政司長在決定「派錢」之前,曾表示政府不應過分揮霍: The government should not overspend in giving generous handouts, 他說的overspend 是「過分花費」,人們不會說underspend 的。

人們對預算案的評論中出現的另一個字是underprivileged,用來形容弱勢社群,即「權利不足的」: Critics said the government had failed to spend the surplus wisely, such as by boosting services to the underprivileged and elderly.

20110315

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