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Thread: Preternatural Vs. Supernatural

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    Not responsible for bitten fingers Shadow_Ferret's Avatar
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    Preternatural Vs. Supernatural

    OK. In my readings, Laurell K. Hamilton especially, the word preternatural is used to refer to things like lycanthropes and vampires. I'm not sure when this word came into vogue, but I've always used the word supernatural to discuss pretty much anything occult and beyond normal nature.

    Have I been wrong all this time?

    What is the distinction between the two?

    If vampires and werewolves are preternatural, what are sorcerors and zombies? Are they supernatural because they use magic or were created through magic?

    Is magic supernatural? Or is that preternatural too?

    And what about mediums, ESP, and so on?

    Any ideas?
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  2. #2
    I verb nouns adverbly loquax's Avatar
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    I reckon it's just a synonym. Used to sound a bit different.
    Supernatural, preternatural, extraordinary, uncanny, abnormal, lusus naturae... it's all the same.

  3. #3
    Wing nut Sharon Mock's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shadow_Ferret
    OK. In my readings, Laurell K. Hamilton especially, the word preternatural is used to refer to things like lycanthropes and vampires. I'm not sure when this word came into vogue,
    ::checking husband's copy of Interview with a Vampire::
    1976.

    Quote Originally Posted by Shadow_Ferret
    but I've always used the word supernatural to discuss pretty much anything occult and beyond normal nature.

    Have I been wrong all this time?

    What is the distinction between the two?
    It's a synonym. Preternatural retains the connotation of "better than natural" that supernatural has mostly lost. That's about it.

    Also, preternatural has been known to send certain people into frothing fits due to its overuse in certain seminal vampire texts. For that reason alone it's probably best to use it as little as possible.

  4. #4
    Not responsible for bitten fingers Shadow_Ferret's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sharon Mock
    Also, preternatural has been known to send certain people into frothing fits due to its overuse in certain seminal vampire texts. For that reason alone it's probably best to use it as little as possible.
    lol. I was thinking of not using it just to differentiate my work from the rest.

    My thesaurus lists them as synonyms, but my dictionary has two seperate meanings for them:
    Main Entry: su·per·nat·u·ral
    Pronunciation: "sü-p&r-'na-ch&-r&l, -'nach-r&l
    Function: adjective
    Etymology: Medieval Latin supernaturalis, from Latin super- + natura nature
    1 : of or relating to an order of existence beyond the visible observable universe; especially : of or relating to God or a god, demigod, spirit, or devil
    2 a : departing from what is usual or normal especially so as to appear to transcend the laws of nature b : attributed to an invisible agent (as a ghost or spirit)
    Main Entry: pre·ter·nat·u·ral
    Pronunciation: "prE-t&r-'na-ch&-r&l, -'nach-r&l
    Function: adjective
    Etymology: Medieval Latin praeternaturalis, from Latin praeter naturam beyond nature
    1 : existing outside of nature
    2 : exceeding what is natural or regular : EXTRAORDINARY <wits trained to preternatural acuteness by the debates -- G. L. Dickinson>
    3 : inexplicable by ordinary means; especially : PSYCHIC <preternatural phenomena>
    - pre·ter·nat·u·ral·ly /-'na-ch&-r&-lE, 'nach-r&-, 'na-ch&r-/ adverb
    - pre·ter·nat·u·ral·ness /-'na-ch&-r&l-n&s, -'nach-r&l-/ noun
    Which is why I asked. To me supernatural relates to anything occult or devine whereas preternatural can relates to anything "beyond" the normal (whatever that means).

    *shrugs*
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  5. #5
    I write stuff and break boards. dragonjax's Avatar
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    Use what you think works best for your work.
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    Ooo! Shiny new cover! Absolute Sage Cathy C's Avatar
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    Actually, it's quite simple. You even stated it in your own post with the definitions. Preternatural implies BIOLOGY -- a physical body that is similar to those that exist on this earth, but extraordinary in their construction. Thus, werewolves (another form of wolf), vampires (another form of human), dragons (another form of reptile), psychic talent (similar, but extraordinary talents, like savants or genius), etc., etc.

    Supernatural implies that either WITHOUT bodies -- "beyond the physical, observable universe," or originally of another dimension/place, NOT of this earth. They are SUPER "outside of" NATURAL "that which is known." Hence, non-corporal ghosts (without body), demons, (of another plane), Gods/Goddesses, etc.

    While magic might be involved in both types of entities, it's not merely the occult that's the difference, but the condition of its state.

    Make sense?
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    Not responsible for bitten fingers Shadow_Ferret's Avatar
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    Yes, thank you. Sounds funny, but that's precisely the answer I was looking for.
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    volitare nequeo AW Moderator veinglory's Avatar
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    As a kid i read a lot of 'spooky science' stuff. It seemed to me that things that start off normal and become spooky are preternatural--things that are spooky from the get go are supernatural.

    Hence spontaneous combustion, vampires etc are preternatural as they start with a normal human.

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    Grumpy writer and editor Absolute Sage Gillhoughly's Avatar
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    You guys ROCK.

    Until today I'd never considered the difference between preter and super in any of my "un" -naturals.

    And I write in that genre. A lot.

    Guess I better check and make sure I have the right word in the right spot!

    THANKS!

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    practical experience, FTW alaskamatt17's Avatar
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    I don't read or write much that has to do with the "occult," but it seems to me that the word preternatural applies more often to some attribute a person or creature has than to the being itself.

    Example: "She moved with preternatural grace."
    "Laurence had a preternatural knack for getting himself into trouble; fortunately, Makiko had an equally preternatural knack for getting him back out."

    Until I looked the word up in the dictionary today, I'd always just imagined it meant somebody was better at a certain task than most people. I'd never seen it used in reference to the supernatural.

    There's also the irony of using it to describe an animal's movement or beauty, since in such a case the attribute of the animal that so fascinates the observer is obviously not unnatural in the least.


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    No Time For Chitchat, Kemosabe. badducky's Avatar
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    I personally would avoid both words entirely.

    I don't think "Preternatural" is the word I'd use to describe a werewolf. "Werewolf" is the word I'd use to describe a werewolf.

    That's like calling a fish "devonian". Fish is clear, and well-defined in the mind. Devonian requires wikipedia.
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    Sick and absent Shweta's Avatar
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    The words also pattern differently. For example, just from looking up numbers in a google search: preternatural abilities is a much less common word pairing than supernatural abilities. This is accounting for the fact that preternatural is a much less common word, of course.

    preternatural: 580 000 hits
    preternatural abilities: 676 hits
    that's one in 857, or so

    supernatural: 29 100 000 hits
    supernatural abilities: 180 000 hits
    that's one in 161, or so

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shweta
    The words also pattern differently. For example, just from looking up numbers in a google search: preternatural abilities is a much less common word pairing than supernatural abilities. This is accounting for the fact that preternatural is a much less common word, of course.
    And a much less commonly understood word.

    While the specific abilities of my characters fall more closely under the definition for preternatural that Shadow Ferret provied, when writing my query I am more likely to use the term "supernatural thriller" than "preternatural thriller." The latter makes me look like I don't know what I'm talking about.
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    Industrial Strength Ordinary_Guy's Avatar
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    Personally, I'd use the right word for the situation. I suppose popularity of a word could be an issue – depending on your target audience –*but IMO, context is key. If preternatural fits better than supernatural, use it. If you're simply looking for a synonym of supernatural, don't.

  15. #15
    Sick and absent Shweta's Avatar
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    Hear hear, OG.
    Ideally, we normally do that.
    After all, we're writers.
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    practical experience, FTW Akiahara's Avatar
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    i'd like another word, honestly. since i'm writing about things that are, technically, by definition, preternatural and not supernatural (though they seem to be able to be used to describe the same things. i don't think it's particularly wrong to refer to a vampire or werewolf as supernatural, even though the textbook definition isn't quite fitting)... i'd like a different word. how many ways can you say preternatural?

    i happen to think the definition is quite obvious... but so many others don't seem to think so. try saying preternatural to someone who never reads. they'll say, 'what?!'

    hmph.

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Akiahara
    i'd like another word, honestly.
    Me, too.

    By the definitions, the abilities my characters have are preternatural. But that just sounds kind of pretentious. The abilities are beyond normal humans, but they are entirely organic (rather than spiritual/mythical/magical).

    Hmm.
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  18. #18
    practical experience, FTW Akiahara's Avatar
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    Exactly, chaostitan.

    I'm writing about shapeshifters and vampires, with a hint of touch clairvoyant. By definition, even a human psychic is preternatural...

    Have you looked at a thesaurus for what it says are synonyms of preternatural? The terms are simply awful! In the case of dictionary.com, they just aren't accurate when you're writing/talking/reading about vampires and lycanthropes.

    Can we petition a new word? I don't know what new word yet, but we need one!

  19. #19
    Is there a problem? Etola's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sharon Mock
    ::checking husband's copy of Interview with a Vampire::
    1976.


    It's a synonym. Preternatural retains the connotation of "better than natural" that supernatural has mostly lost. That's about it.

    Also, preternatural has been known to send certain people into frothing fits due to its overuse in certain seminal vampire texts. For that reason alone it's probably best to use it as little as possible.
    Actually, 'preternatural' has been around since at least the time of the Romantic movement, and was used by Wordsworth and Coleridge. In fact, Coleridge himself had planned to write an essay outlining exactly how he definited supernatural vs. preternatural (IIRC), but like so many things Coleridge planned, he never actually got around to writing it ^.^;

    I don't know when it came into 'vogue,' per se, but right there we have at least a couple of prominent Romanticists who were very interested in it.

    However, I kind of agree with how Shadow Ferret and Cathy C separate the two terms. It makes sense to me.
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  20. #20
    Is there a problem? Etola's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Akiahara
    Can we petition a new word? I don't know what new word yet, but we need one!
    How about 'bizarro'?

    Personally, I think 'uncanny' is overused in many instances, but used well (and sparingly), I think it's a good word. I like 'weird,' too, but it's been overused so much, and for so long, that it's lost most of its impact.
    We shall not cease from exploration
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  21. #21
    practical experience, FTW Akiahara's Avatar
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    Uncanny, eh... I almost always use supernatural and preternatural. I prefer preternatural because it's more accurate... but it kind of has this... I don't know... stigma? I always hear Brad Pitt's voice saying something about "preternatural flesh" or "preternatural hunger"...

    And that's not good at all.

    But I guess I have to deal with it if I'm going to write about vampires.

  22. #22
    Is there a problem? Etola's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Akiahara
    Uncanny, eh... I almost always use supernatural and preternatural. I prefer preternatural because it's more accurate... but it kind of has this... I don't know... stigma? I always hear Brad Pitt's voice saying something about "preternatural flesh" or "preternatural hunger"...

    And that's not good at all.

    But I guess I have to deal with it if I'm going to write about vampires.
    I tried to imagine that, and my brain immediately decided to replace 'preternatural' with 'bizarro.'

    Try it! It's great!

    "He moved with bizarro speed across the room..."
    We shall not cease from exploration
    And the end of all our exploring
    Will be to arrive where we started
    And know the place for the first time.
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  23. #23
    practical experience, FTW Akiahara's Avatar
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    And that's when I close the book, throw it in a box, get online, and complain to all my reader pals who stupid this book was.


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