Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Word of the Day


Before we get to today's word, let's review. In elementary school, we learned all about prefixes and suffixes. At least, I hope we did:

Prefixes are those little add-ons that go at the beginnings of words. (These are called "roots" by most of us, although to linguists it's a little more complicated – prefixes actually attach to morphemes, not words, but since I'm not a linguist, I'll back away from getting myself in any deeper. For purposes of this discussion, let's stay with the elementary school definition.) A prefix modifies the meaning of the word:

clear — unclear
cancerous — precancerous
decisive — indecisive

Prefix itself is a word with a prefix:

fix — prefix

Then, there's the add-on that goes on the end of a word and also modifies its meaning, the suffix:

guile — guileless
energy — energize

However, in many languages other than English, a common modifier is the infix – an add-on that goes in the midst of a word.

Here's an official definition from the American Heritage Dictionary, via Dictionary.com, although most of the definitions I found – including this one – would not be all that helpful without further information. Here is the definition of the word as both noun and verb:

in•fix (ĭn-fĭks')
tr.v. in•fixed, in•fix•ing, in•fix•es

1. To fix in the mind; instill.
2. Linguistics To insert (a morphological element) into the body of a word.

n. Linguistics (ĭn'fĭks')
An inflectional or derivational element appearing in the body of a word. For example, in Tagalog, the active verb sulat "write" can be converted to a passive, "written," by inserting the infix -in-, yielding sinulat.

[Back-formation from Middle English infixed, stuck in, from Latin īnfīxus, past participle of īnfīgere, to fasten in : in-, in; see in-2 + fīgere, to fasten; see dhīgw- in Indo-European roots.]

And while in English the infix is less common, it seems to be gaining some ground, coming to us through what is seen (again, not by linguists) as non-standard language.

Hip-hop employs the occasional infix. The best known have been popularized by Snoop Dogg: "izz" and "izzle" have made their way into at least some of our vocabularies.

But I offer all of this is to get us to this one point: Hip-hop notwithstanding, infixes are rare in English. However, there is one beloved to many English speakers, which we use as an intensifier: fuckin. (Even the more refined of us will often use its more modest fraternal twin, freakin.)

We absofuckinlutely love it.

We find it fanfuckintastic.

It is unfuckinbelievable how much we love it.

Like so much else about grammar, English speakers who use this infix don't have to stop to think about the formal rules regarding the infix, or how rare it is – they just use it, with enthusiasm.

Thanks to Bitty for today's WOTD entry

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