Nounage

Yagoda’s chapter on nouns—stubbornly titled “N” as a display of the author’s animosity for that particular part of speech—was an informative look at a crucial component of the English language. I was as surprised to learn that the majority of words and new-word entries in dictionaries are made up of nouns as I was to read that the Swahili language has 11 genders.

What caught my attention the most, however, was how most words can be made into nouns by adding on a suffix, and that this style of “nouning” words is popular in slang. My first thought was of the Deflategate controversy surrounding the NFL New England Patriots last year. It is an obvious play on Nixon’s Watergate scandal, but I was unaware of the popularity of adding -gate to certain words until after Deflategate, when every minor issue became its own Gate. “Ballghazi” was another word used to describe Deflategate, referencing the scandal Hillary Clinton has been involved in regarding attacks in Benghazi in 2012. It’s interesting to see how these two suffixes make the connection not only between past and present, but also sports and politics, and it’s for reasons like this that Yagoda’s dislike of nouns fails to move me. There is so much more information to be gained from the addition of those two silly suffixes; I could know nothing about the details of the controversy, but by looking at the nouns’ endings, I can understand that it involves foul play.

Another suffix slang that came to mind was Americans’ penchant for nicknaming winter storms. Every year there seems to be another “snowpocalypse,” “snowtastrophe” or whatever latest snowy noun people have come up with. In 2010, while in Virginia for a competition, our venue collapsed under the weight of snow brought on by a storm affectionately dubbed “Snowmageddon” (no one was hurt). The number of new suffix-based slang that pops up on a daily basis in English can be dizzying, but I think in instances like Deflategate and Snowpocalypse, it can be allowed.

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1 Comment

  1. Andrea:
    Ha! Really enjoyed your post here!

    Yeah, there’s a lot of really interesting examples of complex suffixes here that definitely have a “history”–they certainly aim to link past events with present ones in really interesting ways. As your political examples suggest, there’s also a specific rhetorical and political purpose for the design of these particular terms, proving once again how important and powerful grammar can be.

    Like

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