Michael Quinion, the writer behind the wonderful World Wide Words, has updated his lesser-known Dictionary of Affixes. (Both are linked in this blog’s sidebar.) Quinion said he noticed the dictionary site ‘beginning to look very tired’, so he made various edits and updates.
Affixes, the building blocks of English, are integral to its morphology. Quinion calls them ‘those beginnings and endings that help form a large proportion of the words we use’, echoing the subtitle of his book Ologies and Isms: Word Beginnings and Endings (OUP, 2002), where much of the website’s material first appeared.
From the Introduction:
The aim throughout has been to provide many examples, on the principle that it is easier to absorb the subtleties of the way such forms are used when they are seen in action. A second aim has been to show links between words, both grammatically and thematically; where possible I have tried to give some background and explain how words have come to mean what they do. So far as possible, technical language has been avoided or explained.
Most people are familiar with prefixes and suffixes, but there are other types of affix, and they have their place in the Dictionary. Quinion has added a page of number affixes and related words, from atto- to zetta- and beyond, joining the helpful index of themes (biochemistry, culture & society, living world, human body, position, shapes, qualities, etc.).
But the kernel of the site is its A–Z of affixes of all types. The dictionary is a superb resource, concise and educational, on an aspect of language that’s easily overlooked in the busy trade of communication. It’s a semio–topia for logo–philes.
A search function would be useful, so that readers could search the dictionary for affixes related to a particular idea or sense. But there’s always the “site:” operator in search engines.
[Update: Michael Quinion got in touch to discuss this and has added a search function. It works very nicely.]
Dear Stan Carey, I have enjoyed your column very much for some time, and now I have a question. Mediators use the word ‘multipartial’ to mean they are open equally to all positions in the mediation. I cannot find the word ‘multipartial’ in any dictionary. It seems to me ‘multipartial’ would mean being open to more than one or to many positions, but not to all. Please give me your opinion. Thank you very much. Shelley Ehrlich
Hello, Shelley, and thanks for the kind words. I’m not familiar with the word multipartial and have no experience of mediation practice, so I can’t expound on the word with any authority. But I may be able to confirm or clarify a couple of things.
Multipartial is mediation jargon, as you indicate; it does not even appear in the OED. The prefix multi- denotes ‘more than one’ or ‘many’, whereas pan-, for instance, denotes ‘all-inclusive’. But multi- is a far more common prefix, and panpartial has essentially no currency, as far as I can tell.
More to the point, a word can take on meanings that stray from its elements. Meaning hinges on local use, not etymology or morphology. If mediators generally use multipartial to mean ‘open equally to all positions in the mediation’, as opposed to some but not all positions, then that’s what it generally means. But words often have more than one meaning, so there’s nothing to stop you from using it as you see fit, as long as your readers or interlocutors are aware of your intended meaning.
It sounds to me like “multipartial” has been coined in opposition to “impartial”. So while “impartial” is supposed to indicate disinterest, and not taking any side, “multipartial” is meant to indicate that mediators, rather than not taking any side, should in fact take all sides equally.