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

Grammarbites part 8 – Building words, prefixes and suffixes

Part 1 – introduction

Part 8 – Building words, prefixes and suffixes

Part 6 – sentence types

Part 5 – nouns

Part 2 – auxiliary and modal verbs

Part 3 – regular and irregular main verbs

Part 7 – pronunciation – the basic sounds of English

Part 4 – pronunciation – consonant clusters

This batch took me forever! Prefixes and suffixes are a major and sometimes overlooked aspect of English. The websites and books I consulted either had too little information with a random selection of prefixes and suffixes, or too much information (Wikitionary has 1,443 prefixes and 703 suffixes). Among other things, the same letter or group of letters can function in different ways: sometimes as a prefix or suffix with one meaning (or one of a small group of different meanings), sometimes as an integral part of a word which had that meaning originally, but which now doesn’t, and sometimes as a completely unrelated word. I had to find the right number of best examples Continue reading

nineteenth-century wifi

I was showing my students about using Google Ngrams to track the rise or fall of words over time. As an example of a modern word, I chose internet, which, not surprisingly, started being used about 1990. I then chose wifi, and was surprised to find that it was used more in the first half of the nineteenth century than since 2000. It’s obviously a scanning/processing error by Google Books, but I can’t think of any word which would be mis-scanned/mis-processed that much. The closest possible word is wife. Other than that, I’m pretty much flummoxed. (That’s possibly the first time I have ever typed the word flummoxed (1830-40; origin uncertain).)

Jabberwocky

I have thought of an idea for a post based on Lewis Carroll’s nonsense poem Jabberwocky. I copied the poem from an internet site and pasted it into Word for Mac. Immediately, I realised that some of Carroll’s nonce words were red-underlined for spelling, and others weren’t.

Red-underlined are: toves, gimble, wabe, mome, raths, outgrabe, Jabberwock, Jubjub, frumious, Bandersnatch, vorpal, manxome, Tumtum, uffish, tulgey, Callooh, Callay (17). Not red-underlined are Jabberwocky, brillig, slithy, (gyre), mimsy, borogoves, whiffling, burbled, snicker-snack, galumphing, beamish, frabjous, chortled (12 or 13). I’ve put gyre in brackets because it exists as a noun but not as a verb, as Carroll uses it in this poem.

Continue reading

-ful and -less

One of the blogs I regularly read is English Language Thoughts, by Niall O’Donnell, an ESL teacher in Ireland. Yesterday, he posted about the (non-)word ruthful (the opposite of ruthless). He says “We don’t say ruthful though, do we? It sounds weird. It was used long ago though.

In fact, there are enough occurrences of it on the interweb to conclude that people do use it, but these may be mentions, rather than uses, for example dictionary definitions and questions like ‘Is ruthful a word?’. However, ruthless is certainly far more common than ruthful.

Continue reading

The planets

For some reason, I got thinking about the pairs of adjectives venereal and Venusian, martial and Martian, and jovial and Jovian. The second of each pair relates only to the Roman goddess or god or the planet, while the first relates to personality (jovial), soldiers or personality (martial) and love (venereal). The last could have positive collocations (affections, delights) but has come to be associated primarily with sexually transmitted diseases and their symptoms.

So, are there also mercurial and Mercurian, and saturnial and Saturnian? No, lower-case mercurial refers to personality and upper-case Mercurial to the god and the planet. Lower-case saturnian refers to personality ‘prosperous, happy, or peaceful’ and upper-case Saturnian to the god and the planet. But saturnine means ‘sluggish in temperament; gloomy; taciturn’ (somehow one god and/or planet was seen to be responsible for both happiness and gloom) as well as ‘due to absorption of lead … suffering from lead poisoning’ . (In Gustav Holst’s The Planets, Saturn is subtitled ‘The Bringer of Old Age’.)

These were the planets known to the ancients and early and middle English speakers. From the modern age come Uranian, ‘pertaining to the planet Uranus’ and ‘(of males) homosexual …from Aphrodite Urania heavenly Aphrodite, inspiration for male homosexuality in Plato’s Symposium’; Neptunian, relating to the god or the sea, the planet, or ‘(often lowercase) Geology. formed by the action of water’.

Where’s Pluto? For the sake of completeness, I’ll add Plutonian ‘Also, Plutonic of, relating to, or resembling Pluto or the lower world; infernal’.

Note also the chemical elements mercury (ancient), uranium, neptunium and plutonium (modern). In classical alchemy, Venus was associated with copper (?a woman’s mirror), Mars with iron (?a soldier’s weapons), Jupiter with tin (??) and Saturn with lead (see ‘lead poisoning’ above).

[all definitions from Dictionary.com]