March 01, 2007

Get Fuzzy gets playful

The comic strip Get Fuzzy has touched on language-related matters at least four times in February.  Here are two on English morphology: a new-sounding (though not actually new) -ity word and a -dar word.

(Thanks to Alex Martin for finding these strips and passing them on to me.)

Item the first: seriosity.

It looks like Bucky is inventing the word on the spot, on the model of curiosity (and generosity and virtuosity and viscosity).  He's not the first to do so.  The OED has seriosity 'seriousness' with four cites, beginning in 1673, all of them possibly jokey.  There's one entry in the Urban Dictionary, and lots of Google webhits for it, mostly because of the Silicon Valley start-up company named Seriosity, but some of them are for seriosity 'seriousness', for example:

women seem to feel they must dress like men to achieve and maintain seriosity ... as though men are intrinsically serious. (link)

To counterbalance the seriosity of the previous entry, I want to share an extremely funny video I first watched today. (link)

And there are a few in novel related senses, for example:

Seriosity (another one of my terms) is defined as 'how much you take yourself seriously' (and has a related theory based on it: the Seriosity Viscosity ... (link)

The suffix -ity isn't really productive.  Some abstract nouns in -ity (like curiosity) are established and reasonably frequent, but outside of this set, such nouns are conspicuous.  They stand out as fresh creations, and are likely to be seen as special in meaning or use: choosing a noun in -ity instead of using an existing abstract noun (furiosity instead of fury) or forming a noun with -ness, the all-purpose suffix deriving abstract nouns from adjectives (fabulosity instead of fabulousness), will suggest that you intend to convey something other than mere abstraction.  Maybe you're conveying something more than mere abstraction (fabulosity is especially fabulous), or something less (seriosity is hedged seriousness), or you're ostentatiously playing with the language.

We've looked at ostentatious -ity before on Language Log, in particular in connection with the Snickers coining nougatocity (and other coinings in -ocity) and with the word bogosity

The first of these postings also looked at the Snickers coining substantialiscious (also spelled substantialicious) and other -alicious words -- crunchalicious, crispalicious, yummalicious -- with a follow-up on "-Vlicious invention".  Most of the inventions in the first posting are (like the -ity coinings) adjective-based, but those in the second are noun-based, and noun-based -licious coinings are now all over the place, as in this report (of 2/18) from Eric Lee in my innovations seminar:

One of my roommates has been obsessed with Fergie's song "Fergalicious" for a while now.  I like the song too, so now when my roommate sees an activity or person characterized by X, he will say it's X-licious.  Examples include cookielicious, tequilalicious, Cherylicious, etc.   All playful.

As for -ness, it can be used with special effect on an adjective base that normally takes a different suffix: stupidness instead of stupidity (recall the special effect of using -ity when another formation would have been expected).  Eric Lee (1/27) wrote that "Jade on America's Next Top Model has interesting and productive uses of certain morphemes, especially ADJ+ness", with a link to an entertaining YouTube video that has now, alas, been removed (and I didn't transcribe it). 

In any case, Mark Liberman reported here three years ago on -ness being used in all sorts of innovative ways, with links to two blog entries by Rachel Shallit that have lots of examples:

N + -ness = N: mathness, schoolness, paperness, ...

V + -ness = N: studyness, typeness, swimness, ...

V + -ness = V: not much time to writeness; while i studyness all the time

Adj + -ness = Adj: It's the wonderfulness poem; that is very coolness

Cole Paulson, from my innovations seminar, supplied (2/11) more examples of the N > N type (by far the most frequent, I believe), plus a report of the liberation of the suffix and its elevation to a noun in its own right (like ism and ology):

"He's trying to absorb your ness."

The suffix -ness has long been applied freely to any number of words: "He's channeling some Cole-ness," "I don't like this class's HumBio-ness." But in this sentence, heard in my dorm the other day, ness becomes its own word, meaning something like 'aura' or even 'personality.'

[Added 3/1: Ran Ari-Gur writes: "I think ness as its own word might have been popularized by the 2006 film You, Me, and Dupree; the character of Dupree uses the concept of a person's ness (e.g. for the character Carl, his Carlness) in motivational speeches."]

And now, of course, we have truthiness and faminess (originally, on 2/17, fame-iness), hedged versions of truth and fame.

But back to Get Fuzzy, with item the second: foodar.

I'd guess (but see below) that the original model was gaydar, a portmanteau of gay and radar (note the shared vowel /e/, which would facilitate the combination), referring to the ability to detect whether another person is gay.  But the -dar component got pulled out as a suffix some time ago.  Back in October 2004, in an ADS-L discussion of -dar words (precipitated by Hindu-dar), I noted that "just sticking to the exciting world of sexualities", I'd found dykedar, straightdar, fagdar, queerdar, and homodar (but no sissydar, maybe because sissies are just too easy to detect, or maybe the problem is phonological -- see below), to which i can now add lezdar, butchdar, and femmedar/femdar (all applied to women), plus bidar and beardar.  And, moving away from sexuality: nerddar/nerdar, jerkdar, geekdar, idiotdar, plus detection abilities for various social identities, mostly using insult labels: niggerdar, niggdar, yup-dar, redneckdar, Yankee-dar, frogdar, mick-dar, Canuckdar, spic-dar, chinkdar (and jewdar/Jewdar and blackdar, below).  Plus   the entertaining nun-dar, detecting ex-nuns, or nuns not in religious garb.

[Added 3/1: Ben Zimmer writes to say that "there's really no end to these in Web discourse" and provides a big list from from Mark Peters's "Wordlustitude" entry for dogdar.

Please note: I'm not aiming to list all, or even most, of the -dar words that are out there; as Ben said, there's no end to them, so I really don't need fresh sightings.  I will point out that a high percentage of them are about the detection of particular kinds of human beings.]

Back in November, Language Log finally got around to the -dar words, in a posting by Mark Liberman titled "Morphemedar".  Mark passed on a report of sarcasmdar and grammardar, noting that there were tons of examples of the formation, citing jewdar, blackdar, sexdar, and fishdar (to which Barbara Zimmer added humordar), and saying that his guess was "that there has been a low-frequency process of spontaneous neologism-formation going on here for some time."  Mark also surmises that the -dar suffix came directly from radar, rather than spreading via gaydar:

The fact that radar -- though originally coined as an acronym for "radio detection and ranging" -- can be re-analysed as ra(dio)+dar means that the new morpheme -dar probably sprung into fitful existence soon after radar came into general use.

Well, gaydar is the only one of these that has made it into the OED (March 2005 draft, with a first cite from 1982, though that seems late to me).  I'd guess that jewdar (not yet in the OED) is by far the next most frequent -dar word.  In any case, the fact that so many occurrences of -dar words seem to refer to despised identities of one kind or another suggests to me that gaydar was the mediating item.  (If so, there's a certain irony here, since gaydar was first used by gay people about themselves, in a neutral way, though it now has uses outside the gay world, to refer to outsiders' abilities to sniff out who is gay.)

Either story about the origins of -dar would predict one striking fact about the -dar words, namely the very heavy predominance of monosyllabic first elements, especially in the ones that seem to have been around for a while and are reasonably frequent; things like sarcasmdar, grammardar, and humordar stand out phonologically (as well as semantically, since the first elements don't refer to human beings).  Perhaps that's why I didn't find any occurrences of sissydar or lezziedar.
Get Fuzzy's character Foodar is ok on the phonology, though notable on the semantics.  The spelling, with one d instead of two, is interesting; I'm inclined to read it as foo+dar.  Despite that, I get only one webhit for fooddar, and more for foodar (in the relevant sense, and not with reference to the cartoon character).  Nerdar also beats out nerddar handily, so the orthographic simplification might well be preferred to maintaining the visual identity of the parts.

Get Fuzzy didn't get there first with foodar, but from the Google hits, it looks like the strip might become the agent of its spread.

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Posted by Arnold Zwicky at March 1, 2007 02:08 PM