Sunday, July 02, 2006


When this three letter combo is not being used as a multi-purpose exclamation of disgust, when are you actually allowed to use it as a suffix to create an adjective? For example, childish and ticklish are legal, but warmish and reddish just sound wrong. Also, why is it used in the root of some words, such as radish, relish, ravish, outlandish, gibberish, etc.?


Chaka said...

What's wrong with warmish and reddish?

I think this is actually one of the most productive suffixes in English--it's very colloquial, but it works well to provide a range of nuanced words. Notice it can be applied to nouns such as "child" and adjectives "warm".

I will have to look up the words you mention to see if there is a common morpheme behind the -ish in them. My guess is that outlandish and gibberish contain the morpheme we've been discussing, and the others are coincidental.

Chaka said...

-ish is a quite old suffix, as evidenced by its existence in the other Germanic languages. It shows up in the names of nationalities like English, French, Welsh, Scottish.

Later applied to nouns to form adjectives: childish, foolish, outlandish, selfish. This stage of development accelerated as the suffix began to be applied to form "nonsense" words.

The third stage of development is most interesting. OED theorizes that the suffix began to be applied to colors to form "nonsense" words, but these soon came into regular use (no doubt because the sense of "approximating a certain color" was a useful one in conversation). By extension, it was applied to other adjectives like "warm" and adverbs(?) of time: "See you around tenish."

Chaka said...

There is a separate -ish that shows up in verbs like "punish, abolish," etc. This originates in the ending of a certain class of Latin verbs.

Chaka said...

Regarding the words you mentioned, they fall into these three categories:

No Suffix

Verb -ish
relish, ravish

Noun -ish
outlandish, gibberish (which is formed on analogy with the names of language, like we would make up a language name such as Chakaese).