If a word is not broken, why affix it?



Why affix words? Words have dreams, just like people do. Once a noun, always a noun isn’t true. In the hands of a word surgeon, words can be affixed, even if they are not broken. Affixes can be the wings that turn a noun into a verb. Yes, some of these surgeries go bad; untrained business people take nouns and make verbs that are like pigeons in a park: they’re annoying and do little more than whiten the statues. However, sometimes affixing a noun can make it a better noun or transform it into a real, live person. Imagine a world without Bach, Mozart, Elvis, or Jerry Lee Lewis. Where would we be without word surgeons! (Full disclosure: I am a word surgeon.)



Back in the late 1600s, an Italian named Bartolomeo Cristofori had a lot of time on his hands, so he invented the piano. Although it was beautiful to look at, there was one problem: no one could play it because there wasn’t a word for a person like that. Don’t believe me? Look up the word “piano.” I hope you are convinced now. “Piano” means “quiet.” It sat there, strung out, silent, with its ivories untickled by human hands.



One day, an Italian word surgeon (much like myself except that I’m actually American), Mortadella Datsa Bologna, came over to visit Cristofori and asked about the large piece of furniture sitting in the middle of the room. Cristofori, tried to hide his flummoxity, and said it was supposed to be a musical instrument, but that there was no one to play it, so it remained as mute as a table top. Mute and quiet.



The word-maestro went home, worked through the night, surgically removing the “o” from “piano” and adding the suffix “-ist.” In this way, Bologna invented the pianist. The timing was perfect for Cristofori, his staff rejoiced, his income trebled, and he became a key player in the world of musical instruments. Interestingly, one of Bologna’s descendants, Liberace (Italian through his father’s side) was born in Wisconsin. I live in Wisconsin. I am a word-maestro and often refer to myself as an Italian word surgeon. Maybe I am related to Bologna, or as Wisconsinites say, Baloney.


(Note to reader: This is not the post I intended to type today. I think there is something wrong with my keyboard. Today’s post has not been posted but will appear tomorrow. Please consider this post as tomorrow’s post that has already been posted. Thank you for understanding.)





Make words with Dog and a Half


Yesterday I promised to share the secret of affixation. If you are not yet familiar with the vocabulary (base word, prefix, and suffix), please see here.

First, let’s think of the base word as the front of a dog. He says something by barking. In this case, he is saying the word “attain” because he wants to gain something.



Think of the back of the dog as the suffix “-able.” Now the dog has the ability to gain what he wants.



But we still need a prefix, so let’s use “un-” to liven things up. Try as he might, the dog cannot attain what he has set out to get.


And here it is all put together.


Some of you are nodding your heads because you understand quickly. The rest of you need  another example.


In this case, the front of the dog is the base word “describe” because he wants to tell us what he has found.



We will use the same suffix as above in order not to introduce too many new terms and confuse the ones who sit in the back.


This makes our little dog happy.


But (yes, we will throw in another but) let’s go ahead and add the prefix “in-,” which again makes everything impossible. And voila, our mutt can no longer describe what he has found, but in this instance, he can still enjoy it.


Before I can show you how this word looks, the “e” in “describe” must be surgically removed. It requires a great deal of skill. Watch and learn.



Now friends, I hope you are sitting down because I would like to make an offer to you that I believe will revolutionize your life. Why should I keep this all to myself? Why not share it with the world? I want you to be able to make words using Dog and a Half. Yes, it’s true, if you will share your money with me, I will share my secret with you!


Think of it. While your friends are sitting around twiddling their thumbs on cellphones texting so-called sentences composed of just three or four letters, you can be making multisyllabic words with Dog and a Half! Perhaps up until now the idea of flummoxing your friends was only a dream. You wanted to do it, but you didn’t know how. Now you can!


Today for just $9.99, I will send you a template of Dog, a big piece of paper, and a fancy art eraser. AND because I’m feeling especially generous, I will include a recycled pencil. And not just any pencil, but a pre-sharpened pencil with a pink eraser. See below.


But wait, there’s more!! If you act now, for just an additional $5, I’ll include this pair of scissors.

If you use them as instructed you can double the paper and the art eraser!!! Think of it: you can DOUBLE your supplies for a mere $5!! You would be a fool not to buy the scissors, too.  (NOTE: In the picture, you see that the pencil has also been doubled. Do not use your scissors. Instructions are included in your kit to show you  how to double it.)

People call me crazy for making offers like this. Well, I call myself twice as crazy for offering you double the supplies for a total of just $14.99. But I promised I would be generous today, and I didn’t want to disappoint you.


Hurry! Supplies won’t last.


(Offer valid until WordPress shuts me down.)

You wanna speak-a like me, you gotta affix your words


You may already know that I am like an Italian cosmetic surgeon for words. When I lived in Italy, I picked up a lot of the language. In fact, I picked it up three times a day for three weeks because it was written on all of the menus. Since I only lived there 21 days, you’d be surprised at how much I learned. Other Italian speakers are.


I don’t want to show off and use any more of it than I already have in the title of this post.


When I’m not being humble, I like to be generous. And although it is extremely difficult to be both on the same day, I’m going to attempt it.


Today, I want to share with you some of the intricacies of word-building, so that you, too, can affix words.


Let’s start with some vocabulary:


Base word: The lowest form of a word.*


Sometimes "give me a hand" is meant literally. Hard to grasp, isn't it? (courtesy: http://www.squidoo.com/polykleitos-diadoumenos)

Prefix: Pieces broken off of Greek and Latin words that go on the front of a word to help it say something. Think of them as the missing hands from all of those Greek and Roman statues. When a word is in need of  a fix, you lend it a hand.


Suffix: More broken word parts, but these are placed on a base word’s backend. (NOTE: This requires the utmost delicacy or the word will say something you weren’t expecting.)


But first, let’s clear up a potential source of controversy: Why do I call the base word the lowest form of a word? One word: Samuel Johnson. In 1755, he published a dictionary, unexpectedly called A Dictionary of the English Language. He took nine years to define, research the origin, and give examples for the 42,773 words in the dictionary. In this scholarly work, he included some clever definitions, such as:


Lexicographer: A writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge that busies himself in tracing the original, and detailing the signification of words.

Oats: A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland appears to support the people.

To worm: To deprive a dog of something, nobody knows what, under his tongue, which is said to prevent him, nobody knows why, from running mad.

How can you not love a man who puts things like that in a dictionary? And what’s not to like about someone who calls himself a harmless drudge? Yes, I know that Ambrose Bierce published his witty definitions of words in The Cynic’s Word Book, later retitled The Devil’s Dictionary, but Johnson sprinkled his wit into a dictionary that was the standard for the English language until the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) came along and started showing off. Just as computer geeks plant easter eggs in programs, Johnson planted surprises in the dictionary to delight word lovers.


Samuel Johnson said, "A man seldom thinks with more earnestness of anything than he does of his dinner." (Portrait from National Portrait Gallery London)

For reasons not yet revealed to me, I am obsessed with Samuel Johnson, his work, and his remark about puns as the lowest form of humor. With that in mind, consider: Johnson compiled a dictionary full of base words. From these words he created jokes. Ergo, ipso facto, base words themselves are the lowest form of words.


If you are like most people, that will not make perfectly good sense to you, but I’m hoping that you are not like most people. You are, after all, reading this blog.


And now, you must accept my humble apologies. Two hours of humility is my limit; it has exhausted me. I must spend some time thinking about dinner.  Tomorrow I will be generous and teach you how to affix words.

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.