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11 Suffixes That Gave Us New, Often Terrible Words

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People love coining new words. And they love making good use of them—for a while anyway. Bromance, adultescence, and Frankenstorm are just a few of the creative blends that have recently made it big but probably won't stick around.

Sometimes, however, a coinage is so apt and useful that it does stick. When that happens, we sometimes get more than just one new word; we get a new kind of word ending, one that goes on to a long, productive career in word formation. "Bookmobile" was born in the 1920s and went on to spawn the likes of "bloodmobile," "Wienermobile," and "pimpmobile." "Workaholic" is a creation of the late '60s that led to everything from "chocoholic" to "sleepaholic" to "Tweetaholic." But not all of these creative endings have staying power. We don't hear much today from the "bootlegger"-inspired "-leggers" of the 1940s—the foodleggers, gasleggers, tireleggers, and meatleggers who were circumventing the law to deal in valuable rationed goods.

Here are 11 other word endings that have become productive to varying degrees. You can probably think of a lot more to add to this list. Will they stand the test of time?

1. -nomics

With its origins in the staid and straightforward Nixonomics and Reaganomics, this one has rather promiscuously attached itself to almost everything: burgernomics, beeronomics, sexonomics and so on. All the better for its reproductive advantage—elementary survivalnomics!

2. -athon

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, this one was "barbarously extracted" from "marathon" back in the 1930s, and it's proved its staying power since. Whether for a good cause or for no cause at all, our telethons, danceathons, bakeathons, drinkathons, complainathons and assorted other verbathons have made this past century something of an athonathon.

3. -gate

This mark of scandal became productive almost immediately after the break-in at the Watergate office complex was uncovered in the early '70s. Anywhere there's a lie, an impropriety, or a cover-up, -gate will find a foothold. It has even spread to other languages: see "toallagate" (towelgate), a term coined after the Mexican government was revealed to have purchased $400 towels for the presidential residences. There's a whole Wikipedia page devoted to –gate scandals.

4. -splaining

Mansplaining, nerdsplaining, vegansplaining, catsplaining – seems like everybody's got some 'splaining to do these days.

5. -cation

It started with the staycation and the playcation. Soon –cation no longer cared to preserve the rhyme with vacation, and it roamed free among our leisure pursuits: foodcation, golfcation, shopcation, sleepcation. It can also refer to a break from work. Did you enjoy a recent stormcation? Are you hoping for a few days of snowcation this winter? Or will that make you long for a kidcation?

6. -tainment

Edutainment, watertainment, agritainment, newstainment—why be boring when you can wordertain?

7. -itude

You better check your momitude, geekitude, dudeitude, snarkitude, drunkitude or New Yorkitude. And if it works for you, wear it with prideitude!

8. -tastic

It's cheesetastic! It's craft-tastic! It's awesometastic! Almost anything can be made fantastic with this ending. It can even bring out the unrecognized positive qualities of that which is grosstastic, sadtastic, or craptastic. Beware the –tastic meaning drift, however. Craptastic wavers between "so crappy it's great" and just "super crappy."

9. -licious

Babelicious, bootylicious, funalicious, partylicious, biblicious, yogalicious, mathalicious—if you like it, celebrate it with a –licious!

10. -pocalypse

Snowpocalypse! Heatpocalypse! Will the world end in firepocalypse or icepocalypse? This one seems to have begun in the domain of weather reports, but hysterical exaggeration has proved useful elsewhere. Have you not heard Rush Limbaugh's warning of Barackalypse? The e-reader's bringing of the bookpocalypse? See also: wordmageddon.

11. -gasm

This new word ending offers the … um … ultimate in excitement. Eargasm, joygasm, sportsgasm, teagasm, soupgasm, stylegasm, and yes, ectoplasmgasm.

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Big Questions
Why Does Japan Have Blue Traffic Lights Instead of Green?
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ANTTI T. NISSINEN, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

In Japan, a game of Red Light, Green Light might be more like Red Light, Blue Light. Because of a linguistic quirk of Japanese, some of the country’s street lights feature "go" signals that are distinctly more blue than green, as Atlas Obscura alerts us, making the country an outlier in international road design.

Different languages refer to colors very differently. For instance, some languages, like Russian and Japanese, have different words for light blue and dark blue, treating them as two distinct colors. And some languages lump colors English speakers see as distinct together under the same umbrella, using the same word for green and blue, for instance. Again, Japanese is one of those languages. While there are now separate terms for blue and green, in Old Japanese, the word ao was used for both colors—what English-speaking scholars label grue.

In modern Japanese, ao refers to blue, while the word midori means green, but you can see the overlap culturally, including at traffic intersections. Officially, the “go” color in traffic lights is called ao, even though traffic lights used to be a regular green, Reader’s Digest says. This posed a linguistic conundrum: How can bureaucrats call the lights ao in official literature if they're really midori?

Since it was written in 1968, dozens of countries around the world have signed the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals, an international treaty aimed at standardizing traffic signals. Japan hasn’t signed (neither has the U.S.), but the country has nevertheless moved toward more internationalized signals.

They ended up splitting the difference between international law and linguists' outcry. Since 1973, the Japanese government has decreed that traffic lights should be green—but that they be the bluest shade of green. They can still qualify as ao, but they're also green enough to mean go to foreigners. But, as Atlas Obscura points out, when drivers take their licensing test, they have to go through a vision test that includes the ability to distinguish between red, yellow, and blue—not green.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Using Words Like 'Really' A Lot Could Mean You're Really Stressed
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Are you feeling really exhausted? Or have you noticed that it's incredibly hot out today?

If you recognize the adverbs above as appearing frequently in your own speech, it could be a sign that you're stressed. At least, those are the findings in a recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. As Nature reports, researchers found that peppering our speech with "function words" is a pretty accurate indicator of our anxiety levels.

Function words differ from verbs and nouns in that they don't mean much on their own and mostly serve to clarify the words around them. Included in this group are pronouns, adverbs, and adjectives. A team of American researchers suspected that people use these words more frequently when they're stressed, so to test their hypothesis, they hooked up recording devices to 143 volunteers.

After transcribing and analyzing audio clips recorded periodically over the course of two days, the researchers compared subjects' speech patterns to the gene expressions of certain white blood cells in their bodies that are susceptible to stress. They found that people exhibiting the biological symptoms of stress talked less overall, but when they did speak up they were more likely to use words like really and incredibly.

They also preferred the pronouns me and mine over them and their, possibly indicating their self-absorbed world view when under pressure. The appearance of these trends predicted stress in the volunteers' genes more accurately than their own self-assessments. As study co-author Matthias Mehl told Nature, this could be a reason for doctors to "listen beyond the content" of the symptoms their patients report and pay greater attention "to the way it is expressed" in the future.

One reason function words are such a great indicator of stress is that we often insert them into our sentences unconsciously, while our choice of words like nouns and verbs is more deliberate. Anxiety isn't the only thing that influences our speech without us realizing it. Hearing ideas we agree with also has a way of shaping our syntax.

[h/t Nature]

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