WNW: Where'd It Come From? Back-formation
One of my favorite quirks of English is how versatile it is in creating new words, and often without us even realizing it.
A common way of creating new words is essentially tweaking a current word in a process called back-formation.
With back-formation, the new word usually looks like it is the original one and that the other word or words came from it.
That idea make sense grammatically, because we tend to just slide into creating back-formations. The new word is typically shorter, because often a typical prefix or suffix was removed to create the word.
The first I heard of this concept was with the word EDIT. It wasn't the original word.
But wait: isn't that's what an EDITOR does?
Well, yes. That's what we call it today. But the person (EDITOR) was given the name, and what they do was later called editing.
English uses -OR and -ER endings to mean "one who" (a teacher teaches, a sweeper sweeps), so it's easy to take a noun that happens to have a similar ending and apply the rule we're used to.
Therefore an editor must . . . edit! EDIT is a back-formation of EDITOR.
Other examples that were surprising for me to stumble on:
Taking off the -ion suffix:
- resurrect from resurrection.
- aviate from aviation
- conversate from conversation
- evaluate from evaluation
- absorb from absorption
Removing the -er, -ar, -or suffix to create a verb (as with edit/editor):
- beg from beggar
- buttle from butler
- burgle from burglar
- curate from curator
- commentate from commentator
- swindle from swindler
- tweeze from tweezers
Removing the -y suffix:
- choreograph from choreography
- haze from hazy
- injure from injury
- jell from jelly
- sulk from sulky
Taking off a prefix like un-:
- kempt from unkempt
One from a nursery rhyme:
- pea from pease (Remember the old rhyme: "Pease porridge hot. Pease porridge cold." Pease was singular.)
And my two favorites:
- mentee from mentor
- enthuse from enthusiasm
Sometimes we use back-formations as jokes, like how (see Wikipedia) comedian Bill Bryson reportedly suggested that we should call someone who has tidy hair "sheveled" (as opposed to disheveled).
And in an episode of the sitcom Scrubs (a show I found brilliantly written from a Word Nerd standpoint), Turk tells Dr. Cox, "I don't disdain you! It's quite the opposite–I dain you."
FINAL REMINDER: Enter the anniversary giveaway! Spread the word for more entries. Try your hand and the easy-peasy trivia questions. And/or write a little anecdote. Winners will be announced FRIDAY.