Full- #Anglish #PlainEnglish

English is so full of it! The word “full”, that is. “Full” is the 513th most common word in the English language. And considering there are over a million words, that’s not bad going.

English likes the word so much that it has been co-opted as a common suffix: –ful.

But did you know that English can use “full” as a kind of sham-prefix, the first element of a compound. Essentially, it produces verbs and adjectives with the same kind of meaning as the self-standing word “full” and the suffix “-ful”, that is, ‘full of, having, or characterised by X’.

Sadly, we haven’t used it productively for a long time. It’s hard to see why, though, given the allwhereness of “full” and “-ful”. Here are some examples from Old and Middle English.

  • OE fulbrecan ‘to violate’ (full + breach/break, that is, to fully breach/break)
  • OE fulslean ‘to kill outright’ (full + slay)
  • OE fulripod ‘mature’ (full + ripened)
  • ME ful-comen ‘attain (a state), realise (a truth)’ (full + come)
  • ME ful-lasting ‘durability’ (full + lasting)
  • ME ful-thriven ‘complete, perfect’ (full + thriven)

Not all of these formations make much sense in Modern English, but it’s easy to see the power of this kind-of prefix use of “full” and how it could greatly widen and deepen the English wordstock.

Funnily enough, I have ingested one too many tomes of poetry over the years, and have long since been using full-, totally unthinkingly, for years and years. Perhaps I have already been spreading the seed of this affix.

Here are some put-forward words. Add your own!

fullbreach: to violate
fullripe: mature (note that “ripe” mostly fits well for “mature”, although there are cases where “mature” means almost-but-not-quite overripe, and in this sense especially, it seems “fullripe” is a useful word)
full-lasting: lasting the needed length. This is different to longlasting which basically means “durable”.
full-done: completed (successfully)

© 2020 Bryan A. J. Parry

References:
https://www.etymonline.com/search?q=-ful
Davies, M. & Gardner, D. (2011) A Frequency Dictionary of Contemporary American English. Routldge, p. 35

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