Saturday, March 04, 2006


Does the "ee" suffix necessarily turn the giver of an action into the recipient of said action? For example, the employer/employee, trainer/trainee, entertainer/entertainee relationships. Have we inadvertently discovered the root of the word cookie? Is it the recipient of the action performed by the cook?


Chaka said...

First of all, thank you, Linus and Special K, for giving me a reason to waste more time on the internet. God will judge you.

The -ee suffix is what we call a "productive morpheme" in that it can be used to form new words, prototypically referring to a person who receives the action done by the person with the -er suffix. For example, I believe the word "mentor" derives from the name of a person in Greek literature. Some speaker of English analyzed the end of this name as being the -or/-er/-ar suffix and created the parallel word "mentee," which I've been hearing quite a lot lately. I don't know if it's in OED yet, but it's definitely a new word created by this productive morpheme.

Your proposed history of "cookie" is setting off my folk-etymology sensors, however. I doubt that this is the origin, but OED shall be consulted. My sense is that -ee became productive much more recently than the word "cookie" appeared in English.

Linus said...

so does this work for copier / copy ?

Chaka said...

Summary of findings: I was right.

Cookie is from a Dutch word for "cake" plus a diminutive suffix.

Mentor was the name of the tutor Odysseus left in charge of his son.

If you want a quick test of these cases, like copier/copy, may I suggest that only those words that end in -ee really could qualify. This suffix probably didn't become productive until after the standardization of spelling, so it probably doesn't underlie any other spellings of the sound /i/.