Back Formation

10 October 2016

In etymology, back-formation is the process of creating a new lexeme, usually by removing actual or supposed affixes. The resulting neologism is called a back-formation, a term coined by James Murray in 1889. Back-formation is different from clipping – back-formation may change the part of speech or the word’s meaning, whereas clipping creates shortened words from longer words, but does not change the part of speech or the meaning of the word. For example, the noun resurrection was borrowed from Latin, and the verb resurrect was then backformed hundreds of years later from it by removing the ion suffix.

Other examples are: * Adjective “couth” from “uncouth” * Verb “edit” from “editor” * Singular “syrinx”, plural “syringes” (from Greek): new singular “syringe” formed * Singular “sastruga”, plural “sastrugi” (from Russian): new Latin-type singular “sastrugus” has been used sometimes * Verbs “euthanase” or “euthanize” from the noun “euthanasia”. Even though many English words are formed this way, new coinages may sound strange, and are often used for humorous effect. For example, gruntled (from disgruntled) would be considered a barbarism, and used only in humorous contexts, such as by P. G.

Wodehouse, who wrote “I wouldn’t say he was disgruntled, but by no stretch of the imagination could he be described as gruntled”. The comedian George Gobel regularly used original back-formations in his humorous monologues. Bill Bryson mused that the English language would be richer if we could call a tidy-haired person shevelled – as an opposite to dishevelled. [3] In the American sitcom Scrubs, the character Turk once said when replying to Dr. Cox, “I don’t disdain you! It’s quite the opposite – I dain you. “[4] Back-formations frequently begin in colloquial use and only gradually become accepted.

For example, enthuse (from enthusiasm) is gaining popularity, though it is still considered substandard by some today. The immense celebrations in Britain at the news of the relief of the Siege of Mafeking briefly created the verb to maffick, meaning to celebrate both extravagantly and publicly. “Maffick” is a back-formation from Mafeking, a place-name that was treated humorously as a gerund or participle. There are many other examples of back-formations in the English language. CONCLUSION Many words came into English by this route: Pease was once a mass noun but was reinterpreted as a plural, leading to the back-formation pea.

The noun statistic was likewise a back-formation from the field of study statistics. In Britain, the verb burgle came into use in the 19th century as a back-formation from burglar (which can be compared to the North American verb burglarize formed by suffixation). Other examples are: * Adjective “couth” from “uncouth” * Verb “edit” from “editor” * Singular “syrinx”, plural “syringes” (from Greek): new singular “syringe” formed * Singular “sastruga”, plural “sastrugi” (from Russian): new Latin-type singular “sastrugus” has been used sometimes * Verbs “euthanase” or “euthanize” from the noun “euthanasia”.

Back-formations frequently begin in colloquial use and only gradually become accepted. For example, enthuse (from enthusiasm) is gaining popularity, though it is still considered substandard by some today. As we know that back-formation is different from clipping – back-formation may change the part of speech or the word’s meaning, whereas clipping creates shortened words from longer words, but does not change the part of speech or the meaning of the word. For example, the noun resurrection was borrowed from Latin, and the verb resurrect was then backformed hundreds of years later from it by removing the ion suffix.

This segmentation of resurrection into resurrect + ion was possible because English had examples of Latinate words in the form of verb and verb+-ion pairs, such as opine/opinion. These became the pattern for many more such pairs, where a verb derived from a Latin supine stem and a noun ending in ion entered the language together, such as insert/insertion, project/projection, etc.

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