A Mystery-y-ish-y Word Trend:
The –Y Suffix Has Gone Bananas
Cassie Ammerman, Publicity
Mark Peters, the genius behind the blog Wordlustitude in addition to being a Contributing Editor for Verbatim: The Language Quarterly, and a language columnist for Good, and the author of Yada, Yada, Doh!: 111 TV Words That Made the Leap from the Screen to Society, is our guest blogger this week. Check out his past OUPblog posts here. In this post, Mark looks at how the -y suffix seems to have gone completely bananas.
Many lessons can be gleaned from watching reruns of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Indirect sunlight is not an unlife-ender for vampires. Some small-town mayors may yearn to become giant unholy snake things (no surprise there). As Cordelia Chase said, “People, you’ve got to leave your tombs earthed.” (Whoops, that was on the Buffy spinoff Angel—but whatever).
Amidst these practical tips for living, a lexical lesson emerged on the Joss Whedon show: the –y suffix is on a rampage, and it can attach to almost anything, as shown by on-show coinages such as crayon-breaky, heart-of-darkness-y, out-of-the-loopy, stammery, twelve-steppy, and unminiony, which were discussed by Michael Adams in Slayer Slang: A Buffy the Vampire Slayer Lexicon. Adams follows up on the adventures of the –y suffix in his new book Slang: The People’s Poetry, which records other wild examples from the web and elsewhere, including beliefy, four-lettery, Jesusy, super-protecty, and co-y—a blend of prefix and suffix without a traditional root, meaning codependent-y.
As friends and countrymen know, I am a modest soul who wouldn’t dare compete with the remarkable Adams in the octagon or elsewhere, but I’ll stack my pile of wacky –y suffixed words up against his any day. While collecting nonce words for my dictionary-blog Wordlustitude, I’ve scooped up plenty of Buffy-esque adjectives, such as come-hither-y, creepy-uncle-y, forbidden-love-y, gone-to-the-darksidey, homicidal maniac-y, pins-and-needles-y, post-traumatic stress syndromey, princess of darkness-y, self-hatey, and special-forces-y. Nuff said on the –y suffix, right?
Nuh-uh. Holy guacamole, there is a lot more to the story.
I’ve noticed a sub-species of unlikely –y suffixed words that is even more of a wonder, words that might be the biological equivalent of discovering a wombat that is half meerkat and maybe one-eighth Don Rickles: words like military-y, Monday-y, prophecy-y, and yay-y have a double-y construction that shows the –y suffix is even more versatile than Adams imagined and the Buffy writers demonstrated.
Before getting to the good stuff, it should be noted that odd-looking –y suffixed words are not entirely new-ish and Buffy-influenced. The OED records some infrequently used older terms with a contemporary zing: weekendy (1930), newspapery (1864), skeletony (1852), gossamery (1790), and heatheny (1580) are just a few examples. One oldie in particular is the lost cousin of the words I’ve been collecting: clayey, which popped up as far back as 1024 and is still turning up more recently: “PS: Don’t text during ceramics class, gets your phone all clay-y.” (March 17, 2009, Off-Screen I Ramble).
In an email interview, Adams said “As you know, when it comes to word formation, almost anything is possible, but when a word ends with a vowel, it’s unlikely to take -y.” That said, Adams’ own work has turned up vowel-vowel combos such as wicca-y and zebraey, while I’ve spotted the recently useful swine-flu-y. Some of the double-y words I’ve found are basically in the same category: birthday-y, doomsday-y, holiday-y, hoyay-y, killjoy-y, Monday-y, slay-y, soy-y, and yay-y repeat a letter but not a sound, so they look a little stranger than they are. That said, they are still damn strange.
Far odder and more unlikely are the double-y words where the same sound is repeated, such as biology-y, Buffy-y, comedy-y, conspiracy-y, democracy-y, gravy-y, history-y, jealousy-y, lady-y, memory-y, military-y, mythology-y, prophecy-y, secret-identity-y, spy-y, strawberry-y, synergy-y, technology-y, and theory-y. The repeated sound is also found in words like bee-y, me-y, pee-y, squee-y, and tree-y which look more normal alphabet-wise, but are just as weird soundwise. As Adams says, “That is simply the least likely pattern, and one wonders if such forms ever occur in speech; it’s a pattern easily constructed in Webtext—it’s readable, even if it’s not sayable.”
But it is sayable! Or at least it’s performable, as I discovered while watching the ultra-disturbing Christopher Reeve episode of South Park (“Krazy Kripples,” March 26, 2003), which contained this line from a reporter: “Tom, the irony is even more irony-y as it appears that the stem cells have given Christopher Reeve almost superhuman strength.” That example is also interesting for breaking the “all X-y” formula that encompasses just about all of my examples, which refer to people “being all guy-y,” getting “all Hillary-y,” “feeling all holiday-y,” and “smelling all strawberry-y.” It appears that this productive formula is stronger than the phonetic taboo of the double-y, allowing for a wide array of square, rhombus, and hippo-shaped pegs to be placed in this round hole.
But the –y suffix is also mighty, and there are other examples that show double-y words can occur outside this formula, like this Battlestar Galactica-related comment from Television Without Pity: “As for the moniker, at last night’s LA show the question came up again, and we got a pretty firm response from Verheiden that it was purely an aesthetic decision, made at the last minute—they thought ‘Zeus’ sounded ‘too mythology-y’ and preferred the rhythm of ‘Jupiter.’” Then there’s hoyay-y—a variation of the fan abbreviation meaning “Homoeroticism, yay!”: “I really like the Poconos one, but isn’t that a bit too hoyay-y for the friendship thread?” So the formula certainly helps, but it isn’t necessary to produce these whacked-out words.
Now if all that isn’t enough to give you new respect/loathing for the –y suffix as it expands/desecrates the English language, let me make your mind go kaboom once more.
After years of weird-word collecting, I’m pretty unfazed by words with multiple, redundant, exuberant suffixes. As the collector of battle-tastic-tacular-gasm-worthy and mega-legal-robo-proctologist, it’s going to take some pretty fancy suffixation to turn my head. However, even I was gobsmacked out of my chair when I spotted mystery-y-ish-y.
Yowza. That is a triply redundant suffix, plus a double-y, with sort of a triple-y. Mystery-y-ish-y is a lexical wonder, but it does have some slightly less wondrous near-relatives: I spotted analogue-y-ish-y, emo-y-ish-y, and orange-y-ish-y in the wild, so that particular combo of suffixes isn’t a total anomaly. But it is, dare I say, in my best Mr. Spock voice, quite anomaly-y.
More evidence of extreme suffixation can be found in the following list of examples, which may inspire your own uses of the –y suffix. After studying the evidence, I can strongly recommend that this suffix be used with no caution whatsoever. Like doughnuts—according to Homer Simpson and my own privately funded research—it really can do anything.
“yay other! Hope today’s all birthday-y and fun!”
(Nov. 6, 2007, Stationzer0)
“decorations were amazing, i mean it’s all candy-y and fantasy like…. like from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, they had candy trees, ginger bread house, candy house… and loads of HUGE christmas trees…”
(Dec. 25, 2006, The One in Penang)
“i’m trying not to sound all conspiracy-y here, (trilateralists? bilderbergers? shadow government established by the 1947 roswell alien visit?), but…he’s not a stupid guy. i firmly believe he’s advancing his agenda, whatever it might be….and the fact that we conservatives, his alleged base, don’t like it means nothing to him at all.”
(Jan. 8, 2007, Riehl World View)
“But, unfortunately, the Declaration isn’t official policy of any country anywhere or at any time. It was a statement of intent written by a small group of people who acted without sanction of any governing body. The US didn’t exist for more than a decade after that. I mean, since we’re being all history-y here.”
(Sept. 4, 2008, The Edge of the American West)
“Are you feeling all holiday-y now? All the special Chrisma-hanau-kwanza-kah feeling that’s in the air, and also on Starbucks’s annoying playlist is already starting to grate on my nerves.”
(Dec. 3, 2008, Food in Mouth)
“maaan, i need to see this movie. and i’m gonna be all jealousy-y when claira gets it for Christmas. hahaa”
(Dec. 6, 2008, Livejournal)
“After fueling all kinds of fun ‘What if X bought Moto?’ mashups with rumors they were fleeing the handset business like a burning building, Motorola gets all killjoy-y today, affirming that they’re ‘fully committed’ to the mobile biz. Hey, there have been bigger turnarounds.”
(Feb. 11, 2008, Matt Buchanan, Gizmodo)
“My parents are awesome. My Dad’s all nature-y and work-y and my Mum’s all lady-y and they’re both daft and then I am a super combo of their awesome points (and then their tempers >__>;; ) and then yesssss. I win.”
(March 28, 2009, Ultimate Guitar Community)
“And now I’m all memory-y thinking about ice-skating at the rink right around the corner from that theater when I was growing up.”
(Nov. 13, 2006, Whedonesque)
“My faith tells me that marital sex, like all acts blessed with holiness, is a great mystery — and from thence comes its beauty.
Well, it WOULD be wouldn’t it? Since Dawn’s not married, she can’t be having marital sex. It’s all mystery-y-ish-y. And she can imagine it’s pretty, if she wants.”
(May 23, 2006, Pandagon)
“I’m sorry to get all philosophy-y here, but I think these supposedly philosophical questions matter an awful lot to the politics at stake here.”
(May 24, 2008, Pandagon)
“And don’t be all sneaky when you come in. Y’know … all secret identity-y, and then come back on here and post about how dumb I am and stuff. ‘Cause that would be just plain mean.”
(Dec. 15, 2006, Comic Books Resources Forums)
“I love it when they get all secret society-y”
(April 19, 2003, Livejournal)
“i’ve just made my latest incredible discovery – boysenberry soy yoghurt, or as i like to call it, ‘soyghurt’. it doesn’t upset my lactose-unfriendly stomach and doesn’t taste all soy-y and is creamy and filled with delicious boysenberries and 99% fat free! and it was on special at coles barkly square! brilliant!”
(Jan. 17, 2006, from the irish meaning ‘ditch/canal builder’)
“It was all spy-y and computery. The poor man’s Tom Clancy, I guess.”
(May 16, 2007, The Sheila Variation)
“They are orange! They are cute! They are all technology-y and stuff! They feel like nothing I’ve ever worn before, and they feel goooood!! I’m very psyched. They even come with a DVD to teach me how to wear them, they are so advanced!”
(Feb. 24, 2007, Asparagus and Mayonnaise)