Vocab Builder: The Best Form of Remuneration
Remuneration is a fancy way of saying “pay,” a five-syllable solution to a one-syllable concept.
But people have been writing remuneration for at least 600 years, and it goes back almost unaltered to classical Latin. We might suggest a simpler alternative when we edit, but the word is hardly going away.
Also not going away is the the pronunciation that reverses the “m” and the “n,” giving us the seemingly logical spelling, renumeration. The mistake is not new. The Oxford English Dictionary’s earliest renumeration error comes in the late 16th century, less than 200 years after the OED's first example of remuneration.
A problem with the renumeration misspelling is it doesn’t get a flag in spell-check. That’s because if we take off the prefix and suffix, we have numerate, which is to assign a number to something. Numerate is also a synonym for enumerate, a fancy way of saying “count.” Renumeration, then, is either assigning a number to something again or recounting.
The key to choosing the correct spelling is the Latin root “munus,” which means a gift, and not “numerus,” from which we get “number.”
The word money is unrelated. But it may help to think of “money” to remember the order, m before n.
In its remuneration entry, the editors of Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage offer a gem broadly applicable: “It is worth remembering that impressive words become far less impressive when misspelled.”
Mark Allen is a lifelong journalist and freelance copyeditor in Columbus, Ohio. He spent most of his career on newspaper copy desks, and he now enjoys a diverse and fun collection of copyediting clients. As @EditorMark on Twitter, he offers tips on grammar, usage, and style, and his website includes an archives of more than 600 tweeted tips.