English speakers love to create new words by blending existing ones together into "portmanteau words." Sometimes a particular word gets pulled into so many portmanteaus that a fragment of that word becomes "liberated" to become an affix (i.e. a prefix or suffix) all by itself — but one that has a much more specific meaning than what you get with affixes like un-, -ly, or -ness. The best example might be the suffix -gate, which jumped free of the name Watergate to embark on a successful career turning any noun into a scandal. The linguist Arnold Zwicky coined the term libfix for these creations, and like ants in the grass, once you've identified one of them, you start to see them all over the place. Here is an A-to-Z libfix sampler.
A is for -ana, originally a Latin neuter plural adjective suffix, which now allows you to create a collective noun for things related to any "person, place, or field of interest." Examples: Americana, Ohioana, Shakespeareana.
B is for -burger. Starting with the portmanteau cheeseburger, -burger can produce a word referring to seemingly any noun between two halves of a round bun: bacon burger, black beanburger, turkey burger. In fact, it's so liberated from the original word hamburger that it's also a word in its own right. And with the advent of the donut burger, the combining noun can now even refer to the bun!
Subscribe to The Week
Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.
E is for -erati, useful for naming "groups of people with common interests or characteristics, sometimes with implications of triviality," as lexicographer Michael Quinion puts it. In addition to the source literati, we have digerati, glitterati, and Twitterati.
F is for -fu, as in kung-fu. In its more general sense, it's a suffix indicating awesome skills in some domain, such as Tongue-fu and Script-fu. Sometimes it involves a brand name, like Google-fu,
G, of course, is for -gate. Also for -gasm, the liberated final syllable (or is it two syllables?) of orgasm, which can now be used "to describe the elated feeling caused by a particular item," as defined in one Urban Dictionary entry. Examples: wargasm, nerdgasm, shoegasm.
I is for -inator, a libfix presumably derived from terminator in the Schwarzeneggerian sense. It allows you to name a machine with near-magical powers, and is often used by the cartoon Phineas and Ferb in inventions such as the Slave-inator or Waffle-inator.
J is for -jitsu, which basically does the same job as fu, but derives from the word jujitsu. Examples: geek-jitsu, card-jitsu, cat-jitsu.
K is for -kini. Starting with bikini, the bathing suit named after an island, the liberation of -kini got an extra assist from the fact that bi- looks like the prefix meaning "two," and bikinis have two pieces. From there we got monokini, followed later by tankini, microkini, and pubikini.
L is for -licious. The liberation of the last two syllables of delicious was encouraged with the 1970s arrival of Bubblicious gum. These days we have babe-, boob- and bootylicious, to name just a few.
M is for -mageddon, the inescapable ending for fearsome storms (snowmageddon), large traffic jams (carmageddon), and particularly embarrassing wardrobe malfunctions involving sandals (toemageddon). This fragment of Armageddon actually had its start as a single word: the word in Hebrew is Har Megiddon "Mount of Megiddo," an important Israeli battle site.
N is for -nomics. Liberated from economics, it has become "the go-to suffix for every trend in search of a pseudo-scientific reason for being," in the words of Nancy Friedman. Examples: Reaganomics, happynomics, hope-a-nomics.
O is for -omics. First there was the genome. Then, other words began to use -ome and -omics to refer to the complete set of whatever we're talking about, whether genes, proteins (proteomics), or bits of culture (culturomics). Interestingly, even before it was liberated from genome with its current meaning, genome itself was a blend of gene and chromosome
P is for -preneur, to be found in portmanteaus describing various kinds of entrepreneur: mompreneur, netpreneur, kidpreneur.
Q is for -que, as in barbeque, now extended to words such as chickenque, turkeyque, and veggieque.
R is for -rama, which can also be used as -orama. Starting with panorama and then diorama, -rama has come to attach a multitude of nouns that can take this suffix, giving us Futurama, script-oramas, and, of course, the "complete and total barforama" in Stand By Me.
S is for -stock. Thanks to the 1969 Woodstock concert, we now have a suffix that, when attached to a noun, gives you a word for a "celebratory gathering," to quote Nancy Friedman once again, with overtones of peace and love.
T is for -tacular, as well as several other libfixes, including -tainment, -tastic, -tini, and the unfortunate -tard. From the original word spectacular, we now have spooktacular (required by law when describing mega-savings events taking place in the month of October), awesometacular, and craptacular.
V is for -verse. First there was the universe; then quantum theory pointed the way to multiverses. Now -verse attached to a noun means all the related members of that noun. Usually it's something in cyberspace: blogoverse, webiverse, Twitterverse.
W is for -wich. Stripped from sandwich, the libfix -wich works a lot like -burger. It retains the full meaning of edible stuff between slices of bread, but can now specify the main ingredient, too: snackwich, fishwich, and yes, veggiewich. Unlike -burger, though, -wich hasn't made the jump to standalone word in its own right.
Z is for -zilla. As an Urban Dictionary entry puts it, the last two syllables of Godzilla are now a "suffix added to any noun to describe the biggest/baddest/meanest/nastiest of its type," such as Catzilla, Tunezilla, and the bureaucratic fed-zilla.
There you are, a libfix for each of the 26 letters of the alphabet!
Oh. You noticed I skipped H, U, X, and Y. Well, I've got nothing for those, even allowing for libfixes beginning with ex. If you have any ideas, please leave a comment.
Create an account with the same email registered to your subscription to unlock access.