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The New Suffix Posted by on Jun 7, 2018 in English Grammar, English Language, English Vocabulary

A suffix is a letter, or several letters, added to a word which then forms a new word. It is a tail at the end, wagging at us and saying, “Look at me! I’m something new!”

Photo courtesy of Pixaby, CCO

A suffix can change a verb to a noun or an adjective. Add -ly to an adjective and you have an adverb. Unlike prefixes, the spelling of the root word will often be impacted by the addition of a suffix. Whereas many prefixes have the same meaning, many suffixes can have more than one meaning. Perhaps most importantly, though, the addition of a suffix to a word is the most common way to create a new word in the English language. But, have we overdone it?

Consider the suffix -ment. It is a noun suffix. When typically added to end of a root verb, the word becomes a noun. He made an announcement concerning his assessment. You can endure bafflement, imprisonment, and punishment. It’s a perfectly useful suffix, and you can find hundreds of examples in the dictionary. But, is it possible to add -ment to almost any verb and make a noun out of it? Of course not!

So, why then, does adding -gate to the end of almost any word make it a scandal or crime? In 1972, burglars working on behalf of the Committee to Reelect the President, Richard Nixon, broke into Democratic Party offices at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C. The coverup of this act eventually brought about the resignation of President Nixon, who was facing impeachment for conspiracy to obstruct justice.

Since that time, the suffix -gate has been used for any indiscretion which causes even a whiff of a scandal. Recently, President Drumpf declared that someone might have been spying on his campaign. He called it Spygate. Fans of American football, however, knew that term from a previous scandal involving the New England Patriots. Can the nation have more than one Spygate?

And what about the suffix -ish? This is a common suffix, forming adjectives from nouns to describe a condition, a sense of belonging, or an approximation. The childish man, who is British, is fiftyish. But we use it as an approximation for virtually anything! People aren’t hungry, they are hungryish. You may not precisely arrive at two o’clock, but you will be there at twoish.

In this particular case, I may suggest that -ish should be its own separate word. In fact, it has been used in that fashion for decades. I’ve heard conversations like, “Is your home modern in style?” “Ish.” You could, therefore, hyphenate words like two-ish or hungry-ish. That still doesn’t make them real words, however, despite their clear meanings.

And this is my point. English speakers take suffixes and overuse them, even abuse them, because their fellow English speakers understand what is being said. Over time, these may work their way into common lexicology. There may even be some examples which will find their way into dictionaries if they are popular enough. But this will only encourage more abuse of suffixes just to create something new, won’t it?

There are other examples.

  • -tude

We have attitude, fortitude, and gratitude. But now there is a tude for any characteristic of a place or lifestyle. Love gaming? You might have gamitude. Are you from Chicago? Maybe you have Chitude.

  • -cation

You’ve been on medication during your vacation, but if you played tennis every day you may have also been on a tenniscation. Did you stay at home, rather than travel? You were on a staycation. Any time spent focused on your leisure pursuits or interests is a cation.

  • -tastic

It’s fantastic if it’s really good. It’s craptastic if it’s really bad.

Okay, maybe I’m just ranting here. I don’t mean to spout vocabitude. But, I really love the English language. Can we please just not use quite so many suffixes?

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