11 Suffixes That Gave Us New, Often Terrible Words

An American 'Bookmobile' mobile library circa 1955
An American 'Bookmobile' mobile library circa 1955
Vecchio/Three Lions/Getty Images

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 1940s 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 even 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 in the 1940s. 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.

A version of this story first ran in 2012.

13 Words That Changed From Negative to Positive Meanings (or Vice Versa)

grinvalds/iStock via Getty Images
grinvalds/iStock via Getty Images

One of the main reasons for the existence of slang is to keep the outsiders from understanding the insiders. Making up new words is one way to achieve this, but it’s not the only one. A favorite trick for the young to play on the old is to take an established word and completely change its connotations from bad to good. In recent decades we’ve seen sick, wicked, ill, and bad recruited to the “hearty positive endorsement” side. While some would lament the decline of language suggested by such wanton disregard for word meaning, this kind of meaning switch is nothing new. Here are 13 fine, upstanding words that long ago switched from negative to positive (or vice versa).

1. Fun

Fun was first a verb meaning "to cheat or hoax." It came from fon, an old word for "fool." It still retains some of that sense in “make fun of,” but now also means "a merry good time."

2. Fond

Fond also goes back to fon, and it once meant "foolish and weak-minded." It came to then mean over-affectionate in a negative, cloying way. Now it’s positive, but at root, being fond of something is basically being a fool for it.

3. Terrific

The root of terrific is terror, and it first meant terror-inducing. It then became an exaggerated intensifier (“terrifically good!” = so good it’s terrifying) and then a positive term all on its own.

4. Tremendous

Like terrific, tremendous has its roots in fear. Something tremendous was so terrible it caused trembling or shaking. It also became an intensifier (“tremendously good!”) before it went all the way positive.

5. Awe

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, awe originally referred to “immediate and active fear.” It then became associated with religious, reverential fear, and then to a feeling of being humbled at the sublime. While awful retains the negative sense, awesome took on the positive one.

6. Grin

To grin was to bare the teeth in a threatening display of anger or pain. It then became the term for a forced, fake smile, before settling into an expression of happiness.

7. Smart

Smart was first used in Old English to describe things that cause pain. Weapons, nails, and darts were smart. Shakespeare’s Henry VI has the phrase “as smart as lizards’ stings.” It took on connotations of sharpness, quickness, intensity, and, through smart, pain-causing words or wit came to stand for quick intelligence and fashionableness.

8. Egregious

Egregious was a positive word that turned negative. It used to mean "eminent and distinguished," but because people started using it sarcastically, it came to mean "bad and offensive."

9. Sad

Sad started with the meaning of "satisfied or sated," also sometimes "steadfast" or "firm." It then went from meaning "serious," to "grave," to "sorrowful."

10. Smug

Smug first meant "crisp, tidy, and presentable." A well-dressed person was smug in this way, and it later came to mean "self-satisfied and conceited."

11. Devious

Devious comes from de via, "off the way." It once meant "distant" or "off the road." It took on the meaning of wandering—there were devious comets, devious minnows—and, because to do wrong was to stray from the right path, it eventually came to mean "scheming and deceitful."

12. Facetious

To be facetious was once to have elegant, gracious, high style, and to be jokey and witty. It came from a Latin term for playful humorousness. It is still connected with a type of humor, but with an unproductive or annoying connotation.

13. Bully

Bully used to be a term of endearment for men or women. A bully could be a good friend or a sweetheart. It then came to stand for a swaggering braggart and than a coward who picks on others.

This list was first published in 2015 and republished in 2019.

22 Weird Jobs From 100 Years Ago

Metal Floss via YouTube
Metal Floss via YouTube

Before everyone started working in tech, people actually had their choice of eclectic and strange vocations that put food on their old-timey tables. Discover what lamplighters, lectores, and knocker-uppers did back in the day as Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy runs down 22 Weird Old Jobs from 100 Years Ago.

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