Back-formation


Back-formation

In etymology, back-formation refers to the process of creating a new lexeme (less precisely, a new "word") by removing actual or supposed affixes. The resulting neologism is called a "back-formation", a term coined by James Murray [ [http://books.google.com/books?id=gLuThUMAc4IC The Funny Side of English] , by O.A. Booty, [http://books.google.com/books?id=gLuThUMAc4IC&pg=PA29 p. 29] ] in 1897.Fact|date=September 2008

Back-formation is distinguished from clipping because they change the part of speech – clipping also creates shortened words from longer words, but does "not" change the part of speech.

For example, the noun "resurrection" was borrowed from Latin, and the verb "resurrect" was then backformed hundreds of years later from it by removing the "-ion" suffix. This segmentation of "resurrection" into "resurrect" + "ion" was possible because English had many examples of Latinate words that had verb and verb+"-ion" pairs — in these pairs the "-ion" suffix is added to verb forms in order to create nouns (such as, "insert/insertion", "project/projection", etc.).

Back formation may be similar to the reanalyses of folk etymologies when it rests on an erroneous understanding of the morphology of the longer word. For example, the singular noun "asset" is a back-formation from the plural "assets". However, "assets" is originally not a plural; it is a loan-word from Anglo-Norman "asetz" (modern French "assez"). The "-s" was reanalyzed as a plural suffix.

Back-formation in the English language

Many words came into English by this route: "Pease" was once a mass noun but was reinterpreted as a plural, leading to the back-formation "pea". The noun "statistic" was likewise a back-formation from the field of study "statistics". In Britain the verb "burgle" came into use in the 19th century as a back-formation from "burglar" (which can be compared to the North America verb "burglarize" formed by suffixation).

Even though many English words are formed this way, new coinages may sound strange, and are often used for humorous effect. For example, "gruntled" or "pervious" (from "disgruntled" and "impervious") would be considered mistakes today, and used only in humorous contexts. The comedian George Gobel regularly used original back-formations in his humorous monologues. Bill Bryson mused that the English language would be richer if we could call a tidy-haired person "shevelled" - as an opposite to "dishevelled". [cite book | title=The Mother Tongue | last=Bryson | first=Bill | authorlink=Bill Bryson | year=1990 | publisher=HarperCollins]

Frequently back-formations begin in colloquial use and only gradually become accepted. For example, "enthuse" (from "enthusiasm") is gaining popularity, though it is still considered substandard by some today.

The immense celebrations in Britain at the news of the relief of the Siege of Mafeking briefly created the verb "to maffick", meaning to celebrate both extravagantly and publicly. "Maffick" was a back-formation from "Mafeking", a place-name that was treated humorously as a gerund or participle. There are many other examples of back-formations in the English language.

ee also

*List of English back-formations
* folk etymology
* backronym
* retronym
* juncture loss

References


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Look at other dictionaries:

  • back-formation — also back formation, by 1887, from BACK (Cf. back) (adv.) + FORMATION (Cf. formation) …   Etymology dictionary

  • back-formation — 1. A back formation is a word (often a verb) formed from a longer word (often a noun) which appears to be a derivative of the newer word; for example, burgle (19c) is a back formation from burglar (which is six centuries older) and sculpt (19c)… …   Modern English usage

  • back-formation — [bak′fôr mā΄shən] n. 1. a word actually formed from, but seeming to be the base of, another word (Ex.: burgle from burglar) 2. the process of forming such a word * * * back for·ma·tion or back formation (băkʹfôr mā shən) n …   Universalium

  • back-formation — ack for*ma tion n. (Linguistics) 1. a word invented (usually unwittingly by subtracting an affix) on the assumption that a familiar word derives from it, such as emote from emotion. [WordNet 1.5 +PJC] 2. the process of inventing a back… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • back formation — back for,mation noun count LINGUISTICS a new word that is formed by removing a part of another word. In English, burgle is a back formation from burglar …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • back-formation — [bak′fôr mā΄shən] n. 1. a word actually formed from, but seeming to be the base of, another word (Ex.: burgle from burglar) 2. the process of forming such a word …   English World dictionary

  • back formation — Ling. 1. the analogical creation of one word from another word that appears to be a derived or inflected form of the first by dropping the apparent affix or by modification. 2. a word so formed, as typewrite from typewriter. [1885 90] * * * back… …   Useful english dictionary

  • back formation — n. (ling.) a back formation from (to burgle is a back formation from burglar) * * * (ling. ) a back formation from (to burgle is a back formation from burglar) …   Combinatory dictionary

  • back formation — UK / US noun [countable] Word forms back formation : singular back formation plural back formations linguistics a new word that is formed by removing a part of another word. In English, burgle is a back formation from burglar …   English dictionary

  • back formation — back for.mation n technical a new word formed from an older word, for example televise , which is formed from television …   Dictionary of contemporary English


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