Prone vs. Supine
I am prone (!) to getting the adjectives prone and supine mixed up in my writing and speech; are you? In any event, today we are going to resolve this matter and differentiate between these two words so I, at the least, can set myself straight. (Incidentally, I truly hope that you learn something new as well.)
The usage of the adjective prone with which we are interested is described in definition 1a of the Oxford English Dictionary: "Having the front or ventral part downwards; bending forward and downward; situated or lying face downwards, or on the belly: said chiefly of persons or animals, or of the posture or attitude itself."
Therefore, if I lay prone on the floor, then I am lying on my stomach. Cool; got it.
Now let's turn to supine. Definition 1 in the OED for this adjective reads "Lying on one's back, lying with the face or front upward. Also said of the position."
Consequently, if I lay in a supine position on my bed, then I am lying on my back. Hm. Prone and supine are antonyms. Gee—I must be a genius to have put that together!
Although these two particular words may already reside in your "working set" vocabulary and it may seem ludicrous that I've stumbled over them for all my life up until now, I believe that most English speakers possess an array of words that they use on a regular basis but with which they are either partially or entirely unclear as to their meanings. The dictionary is our friend, friends.
Speaking of the dictionary, I have a deeply held, treasured memory from my pre-adolescence that involves my father and me. In this memory my Dad and I are reclining on the floor of my bedroom, armed with matching pocket editions of the Webster's Student Dictionary. Dad and I used to run through lists of obscure, polysyllabic words and time each other to see who could look up each word the fastest. We enjoyed this game (and each others' company) very much.
In my August 19, 2005 post "The Importance of the Thesaurus" I shared with you an example of how my nerdiness with dictionaries continued into my early adulthood:
To be sure, I will always treasure my memories of spending late weeknights in my dorm room, sitting at my desk, reading my dictionary or thesaurus under the glow of a Tensor lamp. My roommate, other dormmates, or campus buddies would periodically drop by to say hello, they would casually note what I was doing, and they would not even bat an eye. "Reading the dictionary again, Tim? That's cool," is all they would say. And then we'd carry on with another subject with nary a pause. God, I wish I had more friends like them nowadays. Some of my acquaintances think that reading more than the sports section of the Tennessean constitutes "heavy reading" and that conversation beyond an in-depth analysis of how the Titans are performing this season is snobby fluff-talk.
That's enough for today. In terms of my recommending a specific English language dictionary to you, of course I'm going to suggest the online version of the Oxford English Dictionary because the online version is updated far more frequently than the print or CD-ROM versions.
If you are not fortunate enough to be affiliated with an organization that possesses an institutional license for the online OED, then I still humbly submit to you that the annual subscription fee of $295.00 is money well-spent. (Disclaimer: I have no connection whatsoever, either paid or volunteer, to the Oxford University Press.)