Episode 105: Suffix Summary

In this episode, we explore some of the suffixes that were in common use in the early 1200s at the time the Ancrene Wisse was composed. These include traditional Old English suffixes, as well as several new suffixes that were borrowed from French and Latin. We also examine the longevity of such suffixes in Modern English.

35 thoughts on “Episode 105: Suffix Summary

    • Actually, I think the suffix “-wise” was pretty popular in 1950s and 1960s neologisms, particularly in the advertising business. As Isaac Asimov commented in an essay from that era where he used the suffix, “…there’s something to be said for that Madison Avenue speech monstrosity, conveniencewise.”

      A quick internet search also shows the following quotes: “What’s the difference (moneywise/conveniencewise).
      If I booked concierge through Disney Central Res, would that be better?” “The bus sounds good to me, pricewise and conveniencewise- I hate driving in North Jersey”

      Of course, these uses are colloquial at best. Not standard English usage like “clockwise” is. I was surprised that what I thought was a modern aberration was actually a bit of a revival of old-time usage!

      Love the podcast. Keep it up, Kevin!

      • Interesting. As you noted, all of the examples you cited are colloquial, but the lexicographers have not yet accepted them as ‘proper’ English words. Neither the Oxford English Dictionary nor the Merriam-Webster Dictionary recognizes “conveniencewise” or “pricewise” in their respective dictionaries. (The auto-correct on my computer also keeps rejecting them when I try to type them as part of this reply.)

        “Moneywise” is essentially the same, but the OED does include a sub-entry under “money” acknowledging that it has been in limited use since 1828. But again, it has not received its own entry in either the OED or Merriam-Webster. (And my auto-correct keeps telling me to try again.) 😉

  1. Hi, Kevin–
    Thanks for the new one! Am wondering whether hundred might have the same “-red” suffix as “hatred” etc. A source says: “Second element is Proto-Germanic *rath “reckoning, number” (as in Gothic raþjo “a reckoning, account, number,” garaþjan “to count;” from PIE root *re- “to reason, count”).” Yet could not this be precisely the original meaning of the suffix under question?
    With best holiday regards,
    ~Arkadi

    • Great question! – with a complicated answer. The -red suffix of “hundred” was actually borrowed from the Norse version of the word. Old English just had the word as “hund.” The Norse suffix was ‘-rath’ and was distinct from the Old English ‘-red’ suffix used in words like “hatred” and “kindred.” However, it appears that both suffixes are ultimately cognate, having derived from the same Indo-European root word (*re) which meant ‘to reason or count.’

  2. p.s. I used to think that the adjectival “-ed” suffix (as in “bearded”) is verbal in origin, as in “one’s loved ones.” Is this wrong?

    • My research indicates that the -ed suffix discussed in this episode is not related to the verbal -ed suffix. They were distinct in Old English, and the -ed suffix I discussed in this episode was specifically used to convert a noun into an adjective.

      • Just to make sure you got me right: by verbal -ed, I meant not the suffixes of the finite verbs (as in “she loved him”), but those of the passive participles (as in “her loved ones”). Given that the participles are, in some essential respects, adjectives, I thought that the suffixes that make them out of verbs could be the same as those that make adjectives out of nouns.

        • I am not sure I can give you a definitive answer. The Oxford English Dictionary lists the ‘-ed’ suffix used to convert nouns into adjectives as a distinct from the verbal ‘-ed’ suffix. My understanding is that the ‘-ed’ suffix associated with past participles is derived from the latter and not the former. Here is a note related to the issue from the discussion of the verbal ‘-ed’ suffix in the OED:

          “It is possible that some of the adjectives formed by the addition of -ed to nouns may be examples of this [verbal] suffix rather than of [noun] -ed suffix. The apparent instances of this which can be traced back to Old English, however, are found to belong to the latter.”

    • According to the OED, the ‘lock’ in “fetlock” is derived from the word “lock’ in the sense of hair. So it doesn’t appear to be related to the Old English suffix -lac.

  3. I fount both the Pre and Suffix podcasts simply awesome. I wonder why we as English dropped most of our Inflectional endings but we in a sense really didn’t because Suffixes appear so common it almost appears they are inflectional.

    • Inflectional endings were indeed a type of suffix. Some of the suffixes I discussed still have grammatical aspects. For example, ‘-ish’ serves a grammatical function by converting a noun like “child” into an adjective like “childish.” I can’t really explain why some of these suffixes disappeared and some survived. It is much easier to explain ‘what’ happened than it is to explain ‘why’ it happened.

  4. Great podcast Kevin; full of very good information. Keep it up.|

    My favourite prefixed word is avast. Especially when followed by the word behind.

    I notice there are two meanings to the prefix A the old English one as in avast and afore and abed and the Latin (or is it Greek) one as in asexual, asynchronous and asymmetrical.

    It seems strange though that there would be two prefixes meaning the same thing in old English. For example afore (used in the word pinafore) and before. Was there a technical diference between the two?

    • There are multiple ‘a-‘ prefixes in English. One comes from Old English ‘on,’ one comes from Middle English ‘of,’ one comes from Latin ‘-ab’ (meaning ‘away’), and one comes from Greek ‘an-‘ (meaning ‘not’). Even though “afore” and “before” were synonyms, I think the similarity is primarily due to the root word “fore.” The prefixes ‘a-‘, ‘be-‘, and ‘ge-‘ could all be used as intensifiers, and that may have been the case here.

  5. Also, you mentioned the to in today and tomorrow. I remember reading some reprinted WWII British newspapers in which the spelling of these words were hyphenated (i.e. To-day and to-morrow).

    Do you know the history of these words? When did they get hyphenated and when were the hyphens removed? Was it just the British who hyphenated them or was it a general thing?

    • It was common throughout the Old and Middle English periods to spell “today” as either “to day” or “to-day” and to spell “tomorrow” as either “to morrow” or “to-morrow.” In fact, they didn’t really become accepted in their modern form as single un-hyphenated words until the Modern English period. However, some documents maintain the tradition of representing both words with a hyphen.

  6. You mentioned that not many new words have been created using the hood suffix. We do have a rather unsavoury one that was imported a few decades ago. I understand that the Dutch (and Afrikaans) suffix heid is their version of our hood. In which case apartheid (apart hood) is a sort of hood word.

  7. You also mentioned that the en suffix tends to get dropped these days (e.g. Wood Chair rather than Wooden Chair). In Britain we tend to use the en suffix. Missing it off sounds rather clunky to us. So Wooden would be preferable to Wood to our version of English.

    Similarly, the ing suffix is more traditional in British English. I grew up in a world where we said washing machine, racing cars and frying pans. Over the past couple of decades we’ve been bombarded with the words race cars wash machines and fry pans. These tend to be from American sources.

    To our ears the world without ing and ed sound very harsh and sharp. The suffixes tend to smooth the sentences out.

    Are there any other suffixes that we Brits use and our American cousins don’t that you are aware of?

    • BTW if American English drops the en suffix why did Elvis Presley sing about a wooden heart and not a wood heart? Is this a more recent trend?

      • I think it depends on the context and the particular way in which the adjective is being used. The ‘-en’ suffix is still common in American English, but it seems to be in decline.

    • I can’t think of any consistent US/UK distinction in the use of suffixes. Of course, there are variations in specific words. American English has retained the word “gotten” with its grammatical suffix, while British English prefers “got” without the suffix. But again, that distinction is mainly limited to that word.

      As an American, I would agree that “race car” is more common than “racing car” in the US, but I think most Americans would say “washing machine” over “wash machine” and “frying pan” over “fry pan.” However, it probably varies by region.

      • Thanks Kevin for putting me straight in the use of Frying Pans and Washing Machines in the US. I wonder where this loss of the ing is coming from then?

        “gotten” is one that we Brits know about. Oliver Hardy’s catch phrase “That’s another fine mess you’ve gotten us into Stanley” was very popular here years ago. I loved the phrase but knew very well that “gotten” was a word we lost or shortened years earlier.

  8. I have been noticing that certain restaurants are spelling Iced Tea- Ice Tea. The “ed” is being dropped.
    I would guess that this is being influenced by pronunciation.We frequently do not differentiate between the T and the D which are pronounced next to each other,
    I wonder in 50 years , if Ice Tea will be the accepted name for the drink.

  9. I greatly enjoy both the language and history included in your podcast. Please pardon the profanity in the following paragraph.

    Despite vast quantities of prefixes and suffixes, I can think of only two English infixes: -freakin- and its profane variant -f*ckin-. It’s an emotional intensifier, as in “That stunt was infreakincredible” or “I’m absof*ckinlutely not going.” (1) Are these two infixes recent developments? (2) Are these two only used in American English? (3) Are there other English infixes currently in use? (4) Did English or its antecedents ever use infixes?

    • Infixes are very rare in English, and technically speaking, they only exist in slang and colloquial speech. There are no “standard” infixes. You mentioned “-f*ckin”-, but British English sometimes uses “-bloody-‘ in a similar way. The only other common infix I can think of is the ‘-iz’ from Snoop Dogg speech as in “hizouse” for “house.”

  10. Thanks for this illuminating episode. Modern German has preserved most of what was lost or diminished in the transition from Anglo-Saxon to English. This episode provides plenty of examples. English “-ness” remains as German “-nis.” Engish “-dom” is German “-tum,” and English “-hood” is German “-heit” or “-keit.” Among adjectives, English “-some” is German “-sam.” Familiarity with the German language adds depth to the understanding of modern English. Of course the same is true of French. Greatly valued is the way the podcast tells its story pf the development of language through historical events and tendencies! Bravo!

  11. Just yesterday I was talking with workmates about the difference between Dutch “gemeente” and “gemeenteraad”, as the gemeenteraadsverkiezingen are approaching here. “Gemeente” I think could be likened to “district” (or some similar administrative area), “gemeenteraad” being the council of that area. I would be surprised if the raad here were not cognate with the -red from old English.

    (verkiezing means election.)

    And seeing the date on this post reminds me just how far behind I am in my podcast listening.

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