Cosmetic surgery for words


I like to think of myself as an Italian cosmetic surgeon for words. Let’s say a word walks into my office and says, “Doctor, I’ve been a noun all of my life. People look at me and think of me as nothing more than a thing. But inside, I feel like I’m a poet. I see things and I want to describe them. Can you help me be an adjective?” Then I say, “You’va come to the right a-place. I’m-a gonna affix you.”

Okay. I know what you are thinking: when did she learn Italian? Well, I was there for three weeks two years ago. Plenty of time to learn the basics.

Prefixes and suffixes are the two most familiar affixes in English, but they shouldn’t be used willy-nilly. You must also know when not to use them. So let’s start with that.

Let’s suppose you have some chocolate and someone in your family discovers where you have hidden it. You have hidden it because you want to protect that person from avarice. We all know that avarice means “an insatiable desire for gain,” and if that family member were to have access to your chocolate, that insatiable desire would cause him or her to gain weight. You hide your chocolate, not because you are greedy, but because you don’t want that person to get any fluffier, and you don’t want to be forced to attach the suffix “-icious” to avarice and call that person avaricious. In this case, you have saved your loved one from being called an ugly name, and equally if not more importantly, you have saved your chocolate.

In our second scenario, your loved one has gone to the store for milk. You are almost out and that makes you anxious because you need it for your next cup of coffee. To deal with the anxiety, you remove your chocolate from the new hiding place in the bottom pull-out drawer in the pantry, take it out of the empty coffee can, which your loved one never opens because he doesn’t like coffee, and savor it with your coffee and the last of the milk. In your chocolate euphoria, you search your mind for a word to describe what you are feeling, and there is “-icious,” whispering to you that it means “full of.” You savor the word; you are chocolicious. You are full of it.