Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

Difference Between Ulterior And Alterior?

Most of us know the meaning of the word ulterior. It refers to something that isn’t obvious or isn’t openly admitted. Someone has called you to a party. You think it is a friendly gesture. But his plans are different – he aims to embarrass you at the party. We say he has called you to the party with ulterior motives.

Now a new word has come into being that is very much like ulterior, but it begins with an a and not a u alterior. It has been seen on sites that have to do with sports or television or politics or some other matters. What does it mean? From where did it come?

But before we get into these questions, let us put ourselves to the test.  Given below are five sentences. Between alterior and ulterior, which word, according to you, fits into the context of the sentence?

  • He’s standing for the elections with an alterior/ulterior motive – even if her doesn’t win, he’ll become such a known face that it will do his business a world of good.
  • He gives in charity not for charity’s sake – he does it with ulterior/alterior motives.
  • This is not the only road to the city – there’s an alterior/ulterior route.
  • Robin had ulterior/alterior motives in being so friendly – he wants to borrow my laptop.
  • This toy is more than just a toy – it must serve some alterior/ulterior purpose.

We will come to the answers later. Before that, let us discuss some of the main ways in which new words have been formed in the English language.

How New Words Are Formed

Many of the words added to the ever-expanding lexicon of the English language have been created just like that, out of thin air, as it were, without any known etymology. Nobody knows, for instance, how the word dog came about.  Apparently, there was no word like it earlier but, suddenly, in the Middle Ages, it replaced the word hound, which had been in currency for centuries. There is a whole list of words that have similarly found their way into the English language. These include bad, dodge, freak, gadget, kick, puzzle, and slum.

Many words have changed their meaning, and do not now mean what they once meant.  The word silly, for instance, has gone through a history of changed meanings. To begin with, it meant blessed. Later, it acquired the meaning of being deeply religious; then it came to mean harmless and, following that, pitiable, before it took on its present meaning.

New words have also been formed by joining existing words together, like seashore and flowerpot, or by taking parts of two separate words and welding them into a new one, like in brunch, which is a combination of breakfast and lunch, and smog, which derives from smoke and fog.

Another way of creating new words has been to shorten longer words. Thus, bus is actually the shortened form of omnibus, and the origin of goodbye is God-be-with-you. Acronyms like UN and laser are variations of the same principle, the former standing for the United Nations, and the latter for light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation.

Adding prefixes and suffixes has also led to the creation of new words. Fairly recent additions of this kind include the word apolitical, meaning not interested in politics, and officialdom, which refers to people in a government or an organization who enjoy positions of authority.

Most interestingly, errors have added around 350 words to the English vocabulary. People have heard a word incorrectly, and the incorrect version has done the rounds and found its way into common parlance. Button-hold has turned to buttonhole and pentice to penthouse.

Some misused words have circulated so widely that, in places, they have won general acceptance. Disinterested, which actually means impartial, has come to be used as an alternative for uninterested, and alternate, which actually relates to two things that follow each other by turn, is sometimes used in the sense of alternative.

The Case of Alterior

In which of the above categories of word-formation does the word alterior fall? Is it a word like bad and dog that suddenly cropped up from nowhere, or is it just a product of bad spelling, someone wanting to write ulterior, but writing alterior instead?

The second alternative certainly seems to be the case. It is a word created out of ignorance, a bastard word that, by all accounts, the majority of English-speaking people would want to wash their hands off. No recognized English dictionary has claimed it.

Does alterior have a future? Only time can say, but for the moment, it does not seem at all likely. It has been dismissed as a ‘no-word’ by purists and the majority of non-purists alike, and it would be no surprise if it dies a premature death from sheer neglect.

But who knows? If alternate can replace alternative, why can’t alterior do the same to ulterior?

It should be child’s play now to answer the questions we began with: in each case, alterior is an incorrect choice; and in the third sentence which talks about the route to a city, either choice makes no sense. In the other sentences, ulterior is the word to go for.


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1 Comment

  1. I had never heard of the word anterior until I was part of a comic fandom and I became making alternative storylines and characters as fan art of the project… so I called my blog Alterior Motives, mashing together ulterior and alternative in the way “brunch was formed. That was a little over 7 years now, and I know that in nerd fandoms Alterior is used to mean “alternative” and is different from ulterior in that the motive or object is not intentionally hidden and the being with an alterior motive is not by definition trying to get something out of someone by doing certain things.
    It’s also a helpful word to use when you have no idea of someone’s motives be they malevolent or benevolent, obvious or hidden. “As she watched the raccoons digging through her trash, she wondered if they had an alterior motive besides having fun. Perhaps they were looking for food?” It just throws a different light on a phrase. Anyways just thought you might be intrigued by the two cents of a mid 20s nerd who’s heard the word used in a specific way for years amongst a differeny niche group!

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