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Have recently noticed our press using "megalith" to describe large organisations; would previously have expected to see "monolith"
eg Valuation of IBRC loan book sparks keen interest - Independent.ie
The meaning "megalith" seems to really be limited to buildings and architecture, meaning "composed of one big stone"
"monolith" seems to have the abstract quality of largeness in a structure.
Is one better than the other to describe a large organisation, and why?
It sounds odd to me too, but may be fine in Ireland.
In modern usage they are synonyms for all practical purposes. The uses you are talking about are metaphorical, and mean very large.
Both of these words have their roots in ancient Greek, and those Greek meanings may cast some light because there was a time when writers of English thought that classical roots were important . "Lith" means stone. "Mono" means one, and "mega" means very large. So a monolith is a single stone. Extreme examples of monoliths include Ayer's Rock in Australia as well as asteroids. But these are also megaliths. If you want to be fussy about classical roots, any large rock can fairly be called a monolith, but only extremely large rocks are megaliths. Hardly anybody cares about this classical stuff any more. As I said in the beginning, nowadays they are just synonyms for huge.
Last edited by probus; 15-Apr-2013 at 06:35.
Thanks for replies. Tdol raises an interesting point about English used in Ireland; I suppose the two big English "markets" are the UK and US, and some of the other markets like Australia, NZ, RSA and Ireland will have shades of difference - India seems identical to the UK, and Canada identical to the US.
As a native English speaker in Ireland, "megalith" sounds wrong even though its Greek roots might make it more appropriate to describe a large organisation. "Monolith" is as Probus says derived from Greek meaning one stone but you wouldn't say that Daniel slayed Goliath with a monolith from his sling! Monolith, for better or worse, has come to mean big stone and in an abstract sense bigness. I didn't believe that "megalith" had become synonymous with this abstract quality of bigness.
Canadian English and General American English may sound very similar to speakers of British English and Irish English, but there are differences in grammar, lexis and pronunciation.and Canada identical to the US.l
Actually, what most people consider to be 'British English' is spoken by a minority of the population of England. Even the 'standard' written form of Scottish English is different. We do tend to over-generalise.
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