Tag Archives: suffix


“It’s not the scenicest day,” I said to Aina, looking out the train window at a cloudy sky as we headed to Niagara for some wine and walking.*

Or perhaps I should spell that scenic-est, so you know I wasn’t saying it like “see nicest,” even though what is scenicest is nicest to see.

“Is that a word?” you may be thinking – or perhaps typing in an email to me. Well, I used it and you understood it, so yes. But is it a well attested word? No. You can find a couple hundred hits for it on Google, but it’s a safe bet most of them are – as I was – self-consciously using it as an awkward construction rather as Lewis Carroll used curiouser.

Why wouldn’t I just say most scenic? Because I like playing with words. Now it’s your turn: Tell me why scenicest shouldn’t be allowed. It’s a two-syllable word, after all, and it’s quite common to append –er and –est to one- and two-syllable words. The selection of those for which more and most are reserved is almost random-seeming. At the very least, the distinction is not black and white. For some words, it is a matter of personal taste which to use: beautifuller and beautifullest were formerly common enough, but now it seems we see the two-word version as the more beautiful.

I do think that what we see is part of the problem here. For assorted historical reasons (mostly to do with palatalization before front vowels in Latin and Romance languages), c “softens” before e and i. But the sound /k/ does not have an actual allophonic alternation with /s/ in modern English. We just retain the rule about c because of our borrowings from French and Latin. This makes a problem when we have something that sounds fine but runs into a spelling issue. Take chic. Lovely word, stylish, smart. Borrowed from French. By borrowed I mean adopted – actually I mean stolen. Anyway, it’s treated like an English word: it’s one syllable, so instead of saying most chic we often just add the –est and make it chicest.

Which looks horrible on the page. And chic-est looks at least as bad. And you can’t add or swap in a k because chikest would look completely wrong and incomprehensible and would conduce to yet another inaccurate pronunciation, and chickest is chick plus est. Somehow the chicest word to say is one of the unchicest (let’s say least chic) words to write.

Well, what do we expect? It should be supercalifragilisticexpialidocious?

Am I the only one who feels certain that supercalifragilisticexpialidocious should be two words? Normally, morphologically, we can add only other suffixes after a suffix, not a whole new root, let alone a prefix plus a root plus a suffix. And yet that’s what appears to come after the the ic in supercalifragilistic. Another bit of evidence to marshal for its being two words is that the spelling would seem to require a pronunciation like “–listi sexpi–,” which is clearly wrong.

Which takes us back to our problem of the orthographic scenery. Now, –ic words often used to be spelled with a k, as in musick and magick. So could we borrow on that and make it scenickest? Hmm. It looks a bit of a snickerfest. It may also tempt a person to shift the accent onto the second syllable because of the “heavy” consonant ck.

Or we could just keep using it and writing it and people will get used to seeing it and saying it. That’s how a lot of things in English have come to be as they are.

We ought not to be distracted by looks, anyway. A cloudy day may be warm and lovely. Indeed, when the sun is out and it looks most scenic, you are at greater risk of getting burned.


*It was not a reference to the fact that we would not be taking in a play at the Shaw Festival, even though scenic referred to the stage a century before it referred to the natural environment – it comes from a Greek word for a stage.


Is -ist the next -ly or -ster?

Does that make sense? How about this: After e- and i-, what’s next?

That might make more sense. With the e prefix (for electronic) on email came a welter of other e– branded items. And with Apple’s iMac and iPod and iPhone, there have come to be numerous other i- branded items wanting to ride the crest. It was the latest thing for a while. Once some brand leader comes along with a new prefix, expect a fad for that. So what next?

Likewise with suffixes. A few of us may remember Friendster, a proto-Facebook, and Napster, a music file-sharing network. They drew on a popular jocular -ster addition to names and nouns (“Hey, Rickster! How ya doin’?”), taken from the still-productive suffix as in gangster, mobster, teamster, and so on. A few other website names with -ster have also shown up, for example a speed-trap warning community, Trapster, and a tea-lover community, Steepster. There are other brand names such as the Veloster, a Hyundai car. And of course there are hipsters.

And there was -ly, as in bit.ly and various other websites – because .ly is the Libya domain suffix and domains registered to it are available for a reasonable rate and it allows formation of words such as visual.ly and futurefriend.ly, but also as a fad on the English suffix; it shows up in other domains such as graphicly.com and optimizely.com.

And now there is -ist, as in the whole chain of -ist websites for cities – my local one is Torontoist.com, but there’s a network, and it has clear hipster tones: Gothamist (New York is Gotham for geeks, fanboys, and other “in the know” people), Austinist, DCist, SFist, Chicagoist, and a few others. I am beginning to see other -ists as well, perhaps spurred by the city websites. There’s todoist.com, a task manager. There’s Eyeist, an online photography review service. There’s Contemporist, about contemporary culture.

Perhaps next will be -age. It’s already popular for colloquial formations of mass nouns: if you can have verbiage and sewage, why not feedage (already the name of an RSS directory) and trollage (also in use, because trolling is not nounly enough, I guess)? What website and other brand names may show up with it?

I raised the question today on Twitter of whether -ist was the next -ly or -ster. A fellow Tweeter, @maxbaru, asked, “isn’t ist already a suffix in SE?” I answered, “Suffix, sure, but fadfix?” I clarified: “You know, affixes that are used faddishly in brand names. (Actually, I think I just made up the word “fadfix.”)”

You can find fadfix with a Google search, true, but not with this usage: there is a publicity consultant for fashion companies, and a Saudi finish building material company belonging to the Fadl Al-Ashey Group, and a lot of usages of fad fix (as in getting your fix of the latest fad). People who are not linguistics geeks are less likely to have suffix, prefix, and affix in their mind. But I think it’s a perfectly good coinage for the purpose at hand – a portmanteau of fad and affix. If affix is not a familiar term for you, I will clarify: it refers to any bits that can be attached onto words but can’t be independent words themselves. They can go at the start (prefix), at the end (suffix), or even in the middle (infix) – though we don’t do infixes in English, just colloquial tmesis. As a bonus, affix is from Latin ad ‘to’ plus fixus ‘fastened’. So it would be adfix except there was assimilation in the Latin. In the Latin, though, not the English! We will not make faffix out of fadfix.

So fadfixes are any affixes used faddishly, especially for brand names. I wonder whether we might even include pseudofixes – not real affixes, but simply catchy replacements of existing elements, such as X in a million places where there might otherwise be ex, or the various replacements of to and for with 2 and 4 (such as in In4mation, In4mants, and even a Spanish website that uses the English replacement in the middle of a Spanish verb: In4mateinfórmate is “inform yourself,” but incuatromate is nothing…). Maybe, to be extra-hip, we can de-X the X and call those fadfickses. Or would that be just too fickle?