wan-

March 14, 2017

Here’s a great prefix: wan-. It is the affixed form of the adjective wane (related to the verb wane). It is “a prefix expressing privation or negation (approximately equivalent to UN- prefix or MIS- prefix)”, so says the OED. It was very common in Old English, but had more-or-less wholly died out by Middle English. I think it’s a great little affix and could be brought back to life as a useful variant to distinguish it from un– and mis– words; perhaps we could use it as a like-for-like (=equivalent) of “anti-“… We might need to say it the stressed way, though: wane.

How many words do you think you can make up using this affix? Do people understand you? Here are some great English words that have this prefix — sadly, all of these words are no longer in use.

  • wanbody n miscreant, infidel (“body” as in “anybody”, meaning “any person/individual”)
  • wandought n, adj (said as “won-dawt”) a feeble or puny person; feeble, ineffective, worthless
  • wanhap n misfortune (think “mishap”, “hap” meaning “luck, chance”)
  • wanhope n, adj, v despair, hopelessness; to despair; despairing.
  • wanhue v to stain (that is, to give a bad hue/colour to a thing)
  • wanluck n unhappy fate
  • wansome adj miserable, unhappy
  • wanspeed n ill-success, adversity, poverty (think speed as in God speed).
  • wanthriven adj failing to thrive, stunted
  • wanton n, adj as in… wanton(!)
  • wantruke n failure, doubt (from wan– + troke “to fail, lack, deceive”)
  • wantrust n distrust, doubt
    • Why did we ever bother to borrow doubt when we had wantrust and mistrust? We also had twēo and twēogan/twēonian in Old English using the root for “two”, just like in German! So why not even something like “twofulness”?
  • wantruth n lack of belief, especially proper Christian belief, a state of unbelief
  • wanweird n ill-fate, misfortune
    • Weird is the original English word for “fate, destiny”, hence the Weird Sisters in Shakespeare.
  • wanwit n foolishness, witlessness; a foolish or witless person;
  • wanworth n, adj a price below the real value, an undervalue, a bargain; a worthless person, a good-for-nothing, a trifle; worthless, unworthy.

Now you only have to work out if you say “wan” to rhyme with “can” or “con”.

© 2017 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from http://www.jasondemakis.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/phasesofthemood.jpg

 

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For-

June 27, 2016

forgive_and_forget_by_ambar89-d3f5m3w

Forgive and Forget

Forgive and Forget are two of the commonest words in English (forget is 875th, forgive is 3629th out of around a million words) But what do the words mean? Okay, we know what they mean. But what do they mean?

Forgive means to ‘pardon an offence’, a sense which developed from the original meaning of ‘grant, allow, give’; note that give is the root.

Forget means to ‘lose the power to recall to the mind, to not remember’. The root word, get, means/meant to grasp. Forget, when you get down to it, means to ‘un-get’, not grasp, or lose something from the mind.

For-give and For-get

Mark the prefix for– which crops up in both words. What does for mean in these words?

For– is actually a prefix that used to be extremely common in English. Indeed, it maintains this place in many other Germanic languages including Swedish and German (ver-). It is no longer used productively in English. Which is a shame, as it is such a useful prefix.

The meaning of For

For– usually means ‘away, opposite, completely’. To expand on that, it implies (meaning 1) intensive or completive action or process, and (meaning 2) something going amiss, turning out for the worse, ending in failure. It often implies both senses at once.

So forgive is (meaning 1) to completely give. Whilst forget is (meaning 2) to fail to [mentally] get.

The prefix, which is common across the Germanic languages, seems to be an old development of the word fore, meaning ‘forward, in front of’. This development makes sense when you consider words like foremost, foreman, forthright. Yet for– and fore– have come to be separate affixes spelt differently.

Buttresses

I talk about the concept of word buttresses. That is, words or phrases or usages which support less strong words and prevent them falling out of use; indeed, which may reinvigorate their use. So there’s hope that some commonly used for– words might act as such buttresses. Unfortunately for the rather useful for-, whose power I first realised as a teenager reading poetry which clearly used the prefix with proper force, many of the common words in for– are rather difficult to break down into self-explaining parts. Take the following.

  • forsooth: completely (meaning one) + sooth ‘truth’
  • forgo: ‘refrain from’: (meaning one and two) + go: ‘to completely away go’
  • forbid: ‘prohibit’: (meaning one and two) + bid ‘command’ (think: “Do someone’s bidding”)
  • forlorn: ‘wretched’, originally meaning ‘deprived of, lost, abandoned’: (meaning one and two) + lorn, old past participle of lose; so, ‘completely lost’
  • forsake: ‘sake’, originally meaning ‘to struggle, dispute, wrangle; accuse, blame’

Let’s not forsake for-

For– is a great word-forming device. Sadly, it is no longer in vogue and many (?most) words in for– have fallen out of use. Why not let’s trying bringing them back? They’re great!

  • forblack adj completely black
  • fordeal n precedence, advantage; a store, a reserve; adj in reserve, in hand
  • fordo vb tr kill, put an end to life; destroy, ruin, spoil; abolish (an institution), annul (a law); do away with, remove (an immaterial object, esp. sin); undo, make powerless, counteract (poison, temptation, aso).
  • fordone pp exhausted, tired out
  • forgather vb intr gather together, assemble; meet (with); associate (with), take up with.
  • forold vb intr grow old, wear out with age
  • forpine vb tr & intr (cause to) pine or waste away, torture
  • forset vb tr beset, bar (a way), waylay, entrap (a person)
  • forshape vb tr transform, (rare) disfigure
  • forslack vb intr slacken; tr be slack in, neglect, lose or spoil by slackness or decay
  • forslow vb tr be slow about, lose or spoil by sloth, delay, neglect; hinder, obstruct; intr be slow or dilatory
  • forspeak vb tr deny; renounce, (rare) forbid; speak against, speak ill of; bewitch or charm, esp. by excessive praising
  • forspeaker n a witch, an enchanter
  • forspend vb tr spend, squander; exhaust, tire out
  • forstand vb tr oppose, withstand; understand
  • forthink vb tr despise, distrust; refl & intr repent (of), be sorry (for, that, to do); tr think of with pain or regret, repent of, be sorry for
  • forwander vb intr weary oneself with wandering, wander far and wide
  • forwarn vb tr prohibit, forbid [note the difference to forewarn]
  • forwaste vb tr waste, use up, exhaust, lay waste, make feeble
  • forwear vb tr wear out, weat away, exhaust
  • foryield vb tr pay, recompense, requite

And you could easily make up new words. Try it yourself. Just remember, it means to “totally”, but often with a negative sense. And remember, there

for-

(meaning 1) intensive or completive action or process; (meaning 2) something going amiss, turning out for the worse, ending in failure.

© 2016 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from http://fc00.deviantart.net/fs70/i/2012/160/c/0/forgive_and_forget_by_ambar89-d3f5m3w.jpg


-yer

May 23, 2016

Lawman comic1-300

Lawyer seems like quite an interesting word. It has the agent noun ending –er, as in teacher and footballer, and the Old English root law*. Look closely: what the hell is the –y– doing in there? Surely the word should be *lawer (although I find this quite hard to say). As it happens, the ending isn’ter at all, but rather –yer. Whereas –er is the Germanic and homegrown form, –yer comes from French, ultimately Latin. (In most words it is actually –ier, but after a vowel or w it becomes –yer.)

Why add a French ending to an English root when we already have a perfectly acceptable form in –er? Simply put: 1066 and all that. A massive inflow of French words in –ier/yer followed. When you start looking, lawyer isn’t alone; there are loads of examples.

bowyer
sawyer
glazier (glaze + ier, from glass)
hosier
clothier
furrier
soldier
bombardier
brigadier
financier
grenadier
barrier
courier
courtier
terrier
croupier
dossier
hotelier

In many cases, one can simply swap out –ier/yer for –er (note: these are real, attested words):

bower
sawer
glazer
hoser
clother
furrer
financer

lawer

But in many cases, alternative formations just feel better:

bowman, bowmaker (the latter is the attested original form)
lawman (an attested word for lawyer)
sawer
grenademan (not attested, so far as I can tell, but for me it doesn’t raise any eyebrows as a nonce word)
hotel owner
bar
bomber

Some words are somewhat harder to find an obvious form for, however, for example terrier. We could be creative here; terrier is from the root terre, meaning ‘earth’, as terriers pursue their prey (badgers, foxes) into their burrows, into the very earth. Quite literally, therefore, terrier means ‘earth-dog’. I see no reason why we couldn’t use ‘earth-dog’ instead of terrier. However, this strays into the realms of making words up. And whilst I see a very real place for making words up, so long as they fit a Saxon English model, I always like it more when we use extant English words instead. Why? Because the words are tried and tested and more likely to be taken up and less likely to be perceived as outlandish or outrageous. And as you can see, many of the above -ier/yer forms have extant English forms.

Footnote:
*law is Old English, albeit borrowed ultimately from Old Norse, another Germanic language

© 2016 Bryan A. J. Parry

featured image from http://tvnewfrontier.blogspot.co.uk/2015/01/lawman-1961.html


To Be- or Not To Be-

April 24, 2015

image

The prefix be- is a versatile little spanner in our English language toolbox. Added to nouns, its meaning can be intensive (to affect or surround thoroughly, completely: bedazzle, befog), privative (behead), causative (make, cause, consider to be: befriend), and to provide or cover with (bejewel). Added to verbs, it means at, against, for, on, over (bewail, berate).

But despite its breadth of meaning, it is far from vague. Indeed, I submit that more-or-less any word could be made into an elegant and readily-understood verb by adding be-.

Try it out for yourself: look around you at random nouns and add be-. What meaning presents itself to you? Try using your new word: do other people understand you?

Despite the obvious usefulness of this word forming element, like every dog, it had its day. For be-, that “day” was the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. During this period, the fad for adding be- to any and all words gave us many useful coinings — although, sadly, most are no longer in use:  bethwack (“to thrash soundly”) and betongue (“to assail in speech, to scold”) are two favourites.

Try it yourself. Have fun with our wonderful language! Take any noun, or verb, and add be-: what meaning does the new form suggest? Do people understand you? Who knows, one day you may find someone else using your word in conversation as if it had always been part of English.

One final thought: begin is also formed from be- plus gin. But what on earth is “gin”? The word gin is so old, we actually don’t know what it meant! Our best guess is something like “open up”.

Addendum

Here’s a brief list of some of my favourite be- words.

befit to be fitting or appropriate or proper for.

befuddle to get confused, to get confused by intoxicants, from fuddle meaning to become drunk.

beget to procreate; literally, ‘to cause to get [children]’. Hmm, makes me think bebaby — to make or become pregnant — would be a fun new word by analogy!

behead Why would anyone say ‘decapitate’ (to take off the capit?) when we have a great word like this?

belie to misrepresent, to deceive by lies, to show to be false or to contradict.

belittle Thomas Jefferson, former US President and Liberal icon, invented this word and was famously condemned by British critics (read: snobs) for his unintelligible language!

beshrew to deprave, pervert, corrupt, and to curse or wish evil upon.

betoken to signify; literally, to make into a token or sign. Think about it, “signify” itself only means sign-ify… to make into a sign or token.

bewilder to thoroughly confuse or perplex; think wilderness for the sense here.

featured image from http://mindfulyourownbusiness.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/logodessin2.png

© 2015 Bryan A. J. Parry


Naked Snails & Threatening Chickens (The German Model)

November 17, 2014

german

German has some cracking words. It can sometimes be a model for us Anglishers to follow — although I have repeatedly and specifically warned against a Germanising English.* But the language does still give us some good ideas for word formations. Below are a few German animal names in a delightful chart.

These animal names are characterised by heavy use of compounding from a small number of roots. Could we follow suit in English?

I’ve personally got a bit of an –apple fetish; we used to use this word in compounds quite often and we could do so again. I mean, we’ve already got “pineapple” and “custard apple“. But what about those ‘love apples’ (French pomme d’amour) or ‘golden apples’ (Italian pomodoro, “tomato”), those ‘earth apples’ (French pomme de terre “potatoes”), or those ‘many-seeded apples’ (“pomegranate”, ultimately from Latin pomum granatum ‘apple with many seeds’, in Classical Latin it was malum granatum ‘seeded apple’).

So yes, let’s make more productive use of our own, homegrown, English roots, instead of borrowing words for everything.

Also, check out these two pages: http://www.babbel.com/magazine/german-animal-names-video and http://www.babbel.com/magazine/funny-animal-names-in-german

Enjoy!

image

*For example, see here.

images from http://www.babbel.com/magazine/funny-animal-names-in-german

© 2014 Bryan A. J. Parry


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