May 12, 2007

Zippy's suffixiness

Things have lost all meaning for Zippy, but he hasn't lost the ability to play with morphology:

In my last survey of playful morphology, I looked at ostentatious -ity (Zippy uses an expanded version -osity in randomosity above), innovative -ness (of several types, including the "Colbert suffix" -iness in truthiness and faminess), playful -licious, and the profusion of -dar nouns.  Above, Zippy adds an instance of -itude where the default nominalizer -ness would be expected and a new -ology noun (which is morphologically well-formed if the base is taken to be a noun: 'study of the absurd').  Zippy's into suffixes.

My survey posting has links to earlier ones on Language Log.  Now, some developments since then on the -dar and -iness fronts.

-dar.  I noted earlier that there seems to be no end of -dar words, and pleaded with people not to send me more.  That request stands, but here's one of special interest from Grant Barrett's Double-Tongued site (hat tip to Ben Zimmer):

You develop what is called "playdar"--a bit like gaydar. Swingers can spot each other in public. A couple once picked me up in a regular bar. (link)

What makes playdar interesting is that it rhymes with the original model radar and the intermediate model -- the probable vector for the spread of -dar words -- gaydar.  And it has a meaning in the sexual domain.  It fits so well.

-iness.  A while back I added referenciness to truthiness and faminess, and suggested that there might be a place for justiciness.  A reader suggested a possible application for justiciness:

Reflecting on the notions of truthiness and referenciness, I was reminded of a recent incident at my university in which a student plagiarized approximately 80% of his paper from an online source -- or rather, since faculty members at my university are not permitted to make such judgements, I should say that his paper bore a close resemblance to the online source, in a number of passages an exact resemblance for several paragraphs at a time. The Associate Dean who reviewed the case, however, found that there was no intent to deceive; it was merely 'sloppiness'. The student's penalty (if such it may be called) was simply to resubmit the work. I thought this might qualify as an instance of justiciness. It's certainly an instance of silliness.

(My correspondent noted that the student missed his extended deadline, so that "a certain justice prevailed after all".)

There is, at the moment, only one webhit for justiciness that isn't by me, and that one refers to me.  This is by the blogger Shinga, examining claims by Patrick Holford about the connection between food allergies/intolerance and IgG (Immunoglobulin G) antibody levels.  Citing me and quoting Ben Goldacre, Shinga suggests that Holford might be practicing referencinesss, adding:

To borrow further from Zwicky, there would be a certain justiciness is seeing this nonsense exposed for what it is.

I'm not at all sure that justiciness would be the right word choice here.  In the plagiarism example, the dean's decision wasn't justice but something that merely had the appearance of justice; that puts it in the neighborhood of truthiness, faminess, and referenciness.  My understanding of the Holford case is that exposing "this nonsense for what it is" would actually be justice.  But maybe I'm misunderstanding Shinga's intent.

Or maybe she wasn't using the Colbert suffix -- with its connotation of falseness, inauthenticity, or masquerade -- at all, but rather the positive -iness reported on here in Mark Liberman's discussion of hostiness, the magnetic quality that all good TV hosts have.

Yet another -iness turned up this week on the American Dialect Society mailing list, where David Bowie wrote on the 8th:

I subscribe to several of the Woody's Office Watch family of email newsletters, and the past few "EMAIL Essentials" ones have dealt with spam filtering. Near the beginning of the latest one is the following:

You and I can glance at a message and know right-away if it's spam or not. Computers are nowhere near as smart and probably never will be, all a spam filter can do is analyse a message and work out the likelihood that it is spam. It's not a simple Yes/No but a sliding scale of (with apologies to Stephen Colbert) 'spaminess'.

I would have probably spelled it "spamminess" myself, but it's interesting to see "-iness" being used actively to mean something like "something like this noun, but not exactly like it" with an overt nod to the Colbert Report.

This is just neutral -iness, denoting approximation along some cline, without the disparaging connotation of the Colbert suffix or the positive, approving connotation of hostiness.  As Larry Horn quickly pointed out on ADS-L, there is some tradition in linguistics and psychology for using -iness in contexts where what is usually treated as a categorical binary distinction -- either X or not -- is instead treated as a matter of degree, as in Haj Ross's 1973 paper "Nouniness" or in work on prototype semantics, where notions like "birdiness" are bandied about.  Larry noted that George Lakoff (in a 1972 CLS paper "Hedges") treated truth itself as a matter of degree.  As Larry puts it:

 ... "a chicken is a bird" or "a penguin is a bird" was considered to be less...well, truthy than "a robin is a bird".

But this isn't Colbert's truthiness (which disparages propositions because they fail to be true despite being put forward as if they were), and I wouldn't myself use truthy in describing Lakoff's ideas; I'd say that Lakoff maintained that "a penguin is a bird" is simply less true than "a robin is a bird".

(A digression.  It turns out that the word birdiness has some currency in a completely different context, namely the world of hunting dogs, where a dog is said to be birdie/birdy -- both spellings are out there -- if it's interested in birds.  See, for example, this site of "Questions and Answers On Birdiness and Scenting".)

In any case, plain approximative -iness has been around for some time and has its uses -- I think spamminess is a good coining -- but Colbert shouldn't be getting credit for it.

Then there's the title of this posting, where -iness isn't approximative at all.  Zippy's suffixiness is a matter of being fascinated with suffixes (like birdy dogs with birds), playing with them, using a lot of them.  Zippy is a suffixy guy.

zwicky at-sign csli period stanford period edu

Posted by Arnold Zwicky at May 12, 2007 03:11 PM