Bandying libfixes about

I have a couple of new posts up at Macmillan Dictionary Blog.

It’s a libfix-aganza! looks at those productive word-bits dubbed libfixes by linguist Arnold Zwicky – like –gate, –splain(ing), and –pocalypse. My post provides an overview of the phenomenon and a small feast of examples:

There’s iversary to mark an anniversary of some kind (blogiversary, hashtagiversary, monthiversary), kini for variations on the bikini (face-kini, mankini, nun-kini), –preneur for different types of enterprising person (foodpreneur, mumpreneur, solopreneur), –tacular to refer to something impressive in a particular way (cat-tacular, craptacular, spooktacular), likewise –tastic (awesometastic, foodtastic, quintastic), and –zilla, ‘connoting size, significance, awesomeness, or fearsomeness’, as linguist Arnold Zwicky puts it (bridezilla, hogzilla, shopzilla).

All of these combining forms are what Zwicky calls libfixes, a term he coined in 2010, because they are liberated parts of words or portmanteaus but ‘are affix-like in that they are typically bound’. . . . Libfixes behave essentially like affixes but tend to be more semantically specified than, say, de- or –ation or –ible.

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Bandying the word ‘bandy’ about considers the word bandy: the various meanings it has gained and the many ways we’ve used it over the centuries.

Funnily enough, Charles Dickens used the word to mean ‘too many bands’ in a letter where he called Dover ‘Not quite a place to my taste, being too Bandy (I mean musical – no reference to its legs).’ . . .

Many of the early, interrelated senses of the word have to do with throwing something aside, or to and fro, or tossing it about. It may be something physical, such as a ball in sport, or more figurative, like words and ideas. If you picture a crowd watching a tennis game you can see why the physical reference was suitable for extension to arguments and other back-and-forth verbal exchanges.

All my posts for Macmillan Dictionary on assorted language-related topics can be read here.

5 Responses to Bandying libfixes about

  1. astraya says:

    A class in Korea was talking about food and drink, and I asked one student whether she drank beer. She said “I never drink beer. Beer makes people holic!” What’s that – a lib-lib?

  2. mikepope says:

    I’m wondering whether you can help me understand the difference between a libfix and what seems like a similar term–a “cran-morph.” I’ve seen affixes like “-zilla” referred to as cran-morphs.

    • Stan Carey says:

      The main difference, I think, is that cran-morphs (i.e., cranberry morphemes) are semantically bleached or opaque, whereas libfixes carry quite clear and definite meanings and connotations. Also, cranberry morphemes can be found in a single word or a small number of words, whereas libfixes tend to be acknowledged as such only after they’ve become quite productive. I’m not a linguist, though, so I’ll ask for expert opinion and will update if necessary!

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