September 14, 2006

Taxonation without representation

Arriving a bit late to the Pluto pity party is Bill Amend's nerdy comic strip "FoxTrot" (Sep. 14):

Taxonation doesn't seem especially well-formed to me. It appends -ation, a suffix for nouns of action, to taxon-, which is presumably back-formed from taxonomy. But wouldn't taxonomization be the more felicitous form? The verb taxonomize is well-attested (with citations in the OED back to 1971), and taxonomization yields a healthy 600 or so Googlehits, as opposed to the handful of hits for taxonation, none in the relevant sense. But perhaps Amend rejected taxonomization since it wouldn't resonate quite as closely with the word he was punning off of, taxation.

Then again, this sort of back-formation from taxonomy isn't exactly unprecedented. Biologists use the word taxon to refer to taxonomic categories such as phylum, order, family, genus, and species. The OED says taxon first appeared in German in 1926 and filtered into English by 1929. And more recently, the word taxonomy has been morphologically dissected in another fashion, serving as a blend component for folksonomy (folk + taxonomy), a portmanteau coined by Thomas Van der Wal in 2004 to describe the sort of "social tagging" that goes on at websites like Furl, Flickr and

(Hat tip to Joel Berson.)

Posted by Benjamin Zimmer at September 14, 2006 12:40 PM