libfixes

Yesterday I posted about the suffix -(a)holic. This is an example of what the US linguist Arnold Zwicky has termed a libfix – that is, a portion of an existing word which is “liberated” and used as an affix (usually a suffix) to create a new word, retaining some of the meaning of the existing word. This is not a new phenomenon, but has certainly become more common in the last 50 years; -(a)holic as a libfix dates from 1965. Some of these words have established themselves, but many remain marginal. Because of this, there are no consolidated lists of them. One of the best I found was an article by the US linguist/blogger Neal Whitman in The Week. He lists and briefly explains:

-ana, -burger, -cation, -dar, -erati, -fu, -gate, -gasm, -inator, -jitsu, -kini, -licious, -mageddon, -nomics, -omics, -preneur, -que, -rama/-orama, -stock, -tacular, -tainment, -tastic, -tini, -tard, -verse, -wich and -zilla. (If you don’t recognise any of those, click through to the article.)

There are more – he doesn’t list -(a)holic and I can also think of –splaining (which can even be used as a word in its own right; there is a difference between explaining and splaining. You see, splaining is when someone … oh, right). Some of these are imaginative, and some will last; others are awkward and/or lazy – every slight political scandal is now a –gate.

PS two examples from real life. This morning at a supermarket I spotted perinaise (peri peri + mayonnaise). This afternoon while driving I was behind a car belonging to someone offering mobile spray tans (?why). The first word of the small print was ‘Glamourlicious’. Just in case ‘glamourous’ isn’t … glamourous enough. (My preference is for ‘our’ spellings, but ‘glamourous’ looks kind of wrong, but I can’t quite bring myself to use ‘glamorous’ (as opposed to mentioning it, which I just did).

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holic

Two days ago the textbook had a reading about a course for “speedaholics”. I started simply by writing speedaholic on the board and asking them what they thought it meant. They quickly figured out that it was somehow analogous to alcoholic. One student guessed it referred to cars – a car provides speed in the same way that a drink provides alcohol.

The suffix -(a)holic means “a person who has an addiction to or obsession with some object or activity”. When you think about, it really should be –ic, because alcoholic is alcohol+ic, but no-one would understand speedic etc. Continue reading

Travelling in boots

A few days ago I was scrolling through the complete New South Wales road rules (for work-related purposes). My eye was caught by rule  headed ‘persons must not travel in or on boots’. I immediately thought of footwear, but why specify boots? And what kind of boots? Think of all the people travelling in workboots or fashion boots (or, in western Sydney, ugg boots). But how do people travel ‘on boots’?

Oooohhhh … not those boots, but the rear luggage compartment of car, what my North American readers would call trunks, but ‘persons must not travel in or on trunks’ is a) not standard Australian English and b) really not much better. The actual rule states ‘A person must not travel in or on the boot of a motor vehicle’. Oh, all right then.

This rule is redundant, anyway. A previous rule prohibits travelling in a part of a car which is ‘designed primarily for the carriage of goods’, unless it is enclosed and there is a seat with a seatbelt, which covers the rear-most part of an SUV or station wagon. So that covers travelling ‘in’ boots. Another sub-rule of the same rule prohibits travelling ‘in or on a motor vehicle with any part [or all parts] of the person’s body outside a window or door of the vehicle’. So that covers travelling ‘on’ boots. (There are a few exemptions, which are not relevant.) There is no specific rule against travelling on the bonnet/hood or roof, so why specify boots?

(I guess that very few people actually read the complete road rules. Learner drivers are given the Road Users’ Handbook (also available online) and do a computerised Driver Knowledge Test, but the is no formal requirement for reading, studying, knowing or being tested on the road rules beyond that. (And, for many drivers, it shows.))

Be alert

Many years ago one of my sisters gave me a calendar with a pun-based cartoon on every month’s page. One had a cartoon of two strange animals with the caption “Be alert. Your country needs more lerts.” (Or something like that. One website gives the version “The world needs more lerts”, crediting Woody Allen.)

I have recently been exploring prefixes. For some reason I started at the end of the alphabet and worked my way backwards, and have now reached a-, which is causing me great problems because the humble a– prefix has more meanings than any other.

You probably knew, or guessed, that alert is not derived from a lert. So what is its derivation? It comes from Italian all’erta, or all(a) erta, which means to or on the lookout or watchtower. Erta, in turn, is the feminine form of erto, which is the past participle of Italian ergere, Latin ērigere, meaning to erect, so an erta is something erected. So if you are alert, you are, literally, on the erection. Hmmm …

(The word often seen in close proximity, alarm, is from Old Italian all’arme, to arms – arms being from the Latin arma, not the Old English earmas.)

What rhymes with axolotl?

Not a lotl, I would have thought.

A few days ago someone posted on Facebook The Axolotl Song (earworm warning), by a music/video/comedy group called Rathergood, which consists of Joel Veitch and unnamed others. They quickly rhyme axolotl with bottle and lotl, and also with mottled, which doesn’t quite rhyme.

There is a surprising number of English words ending with -tle. Morewords.com lists 104, but there are several derived forms; for example, bluebottle is listed alongside bottle. Eleven of these have a silent t in the cluster –stle, for example, castle. There are also a few with –ntle, for example, gentle, in which the n is part of the previous syllable, and one with –btle (subtle), in which the b is silent. The one which goes closest to rhyming with axolotl is apostle, but I can’t imagine anyone fitting both of those into the same song. Otherwise, there are bottle (and bluebottle), throttle, wattle and mottle among relatively common words and pottle (a former liquid measure equal to two quarts) (why not just say ‘two quarts’ or ‘half a gallon’?) and dottle (the plug of half-smoked tobacco in the bottom of a pipe after smoking) (does anyone really need a word for this?). Continue reading

“I’ll be frank with you”

I currently have one very low level student (who would be better off in the morning class, but keeps coming to mine), who is working from the beginner textbook. One early chapter introduces countries, first by themselves, then with people from those. One country is France and one person is Franz (I didn’t note which country, probably Germany). The student noticed the similarity between the names, so I quickly said “They aren’t the same word. France is a country, like China (pointing to her) and Australia (pointing to me). Franz is a name, like [her name] (pointing to her) and [my name] (pointing to me).” She seemed to understand.

Except that they really are the same word. The names Franciscus, Francesco, Francisco, François, Franz and, according to Wikipedia, 192 other variations from 74 languages, all mean “Frenchman/woman”. Famous people with that name include Francis of Assisi, Francis Xavier, Francis Bacon (x 2), Francis Ford Coppola, Frank Sinatra, Francis Drake, F Scott Fitzgerald, Francis Scott Key, Holy Roman Emperors, kings and assorted other noblemen, the current pope, and Francis the Talking Mule. Perhaps surprisingly, given the popularity of the name overall, Pope Francis is the first of his name, compared to 16 Benedicts. I can only assume that more Benedictines have become popes than Franciscans. Pope Francis is, in fact, a Jesuit, but there haven’t been any Pope Ignatiuses. (That looks wrong – Ignatii?) Then there’s the surname Frank/Franck/Frankel/Franco/Franz (and several more variations).

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ough

While I was researching the spelling ough for the previous batch of Grammarbites, I saw in the Wikipedia article on that spelling a list of four poems highlighting the inconsistencies. I easily found them on the internet and gather them here for your convenience. Two of them are written in the voice of an English language learner, the second one possibly the writer’s own experience.

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