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We are still somewhat fixated on death as students become curious about <mort> words after a follow up lesson  to our initial 10 minute dive into morphology and etymology. In the follow up session on Tuesday we had looked at the dictionary denotation in the Mac Oxford version , explored and bookmarked Etymology Online. We spent a little time in learning how the entries are organized: from the time period when the word is first attested and moving back, sifting through the layers of time, to locate the Latin root or indeed go even further to identify its proto Indo-European  roots.  We looked at the matrix I had constructed on Neil Ramsden’s impressive mini matrix maker  and spent a little time reading words from this. I know I must review soon, at least hope it’s a review for many rather than brand new information, the i/y relationship, doubling and patterns of suffixing from Real Spelling Tool Box2.

‘What about <morgue>?’ one student asked, ‘Is that linked to Latin mori?’ ‘ What about <cemetery> where does that come from?’ Alexis was interested in the origins of <mortar> and <mortar board> having come up to me at the end of class to say,” I’m wondering about mortar – I can see m-o-r-t , but I don’t think it can be the same base element as in immortal , can it? It doesn’t seem to have the same sort of meaning.’ I was intrigued by this as well so we added it the list of ‘wonderings’.

Anna, in response to being asked if she was fluent in bahasa Malayu, had responded “ish”. Hale had immediately seized on this to ask, “Is that even a word?” I merely replied that we had understood Anna but threw the question back on them. What did they think? <ish> a  word, suffix or both? Students were to pick any one of the words or questions that interested them and investigate denotation, morphemes, related words, words sharing the same base element, and root. And after having set this up for their homework and they’d left, I began to panic that I had totally thrown them in the deep end of the swimming pool!

So this morning for 20 minutes students got together in their word focus groups and shared their information with one another. The following is investigations of those interested in investigating  whether <ish> is a free base element or suffix or both.

This group unanimously agreed that it was a bound element, an adjectival suffix. They cited many examples and as a group corrected some members who’d been duped by the surface resemblance of the suffix with the letter string (what is the linguistic term for this?) of ‘i-s-h’ coming up with ‘fish’ ,”wish’ ,’dish’. I heard one student say to the two who had done this: “Well if you think this is a suffix, what does that leave?… Just a single letter and I’m sure that’s not a morpheme!”. We clarified this as a class that the letter ‘f’ as in fish alone was not an element nor the ‘d’ in dish or the ‘w’ in wish. The joint evidence bank culled from many words generated on Word Searcher– the tool students briefly became aware of on Tuesday, was to confirm that <-ish> was indeed a suffix was as follows:

blemish anguish vanish burnish oldish modish punish girlish bookish faddish foolish hellish greenish perish lavish

Another group of <ish> investigators found that <-ish> as a suffix could also indicate nationalities as in Spanish, Danish, Sweedish.. so added as a suffix to nouns to form adjectives.

It was after the class had finished that I began to look at the group of words above to see that their evidence had not been sorted thoughtfully. They had stated the suffix was adjectival and yet we had ‘blemish’,‘anguish’, and ‘lavish’ which can be both nominal and verbal and ‘burnish’, ‘punish’, ‘perish’ all verbal. So obviously more than adjectival.

So off to the OED online dictionary to plan where I may go next with my students and I have to interject to say how much I love this dictionary after discovering today that our school had a subscription! Calloo! And it was indeed a frabjous day with this discovery!

The first sense indicates that while <–ish > can be of OE it has also been attached to nouns ‘ to form adjectives of common Germanic origin’: Scottish, Danish Swedish, English.

The second sense of <-ish> OED shows is that it adds onto other nouns of Germanic origins with the sense ‘Of or belonging to a person or thing, of the nature or character of’: ‘outlandish’,’ heathenish’. So still attaching to groups of people also seen in ‘childish’, and ‘churlish’.

I was fascinated by the discovery that from a ‘colourless sense’ with words such as boyish, girlish, waggish , the uses of <–ish> attaching to words indicated negative qualities: ‘apish’ ‘boorish’ ‘brutish’, ‘babyish’, ‘foolish’, ‘foppish’, ‘prudish’, ‘sluggish’.  I wonder as I read the list cited whether those words that have narrowed (specialized?) over time to attach to women, that perhaps the suffix <-ish> modifies the harshness of the noun :whorish, sluttish, – almost a whore or almost a slut. The nouns seem stronger, more negative, although again at one time these words were not just applied to women and far more neutral! All the aforementioned words usually have Germanic roots, according to OED. (An exception is ghoulish – of Arabic origins!) The suffix can also be attached to ‘names of things indicating ‘of the nature of or tending to’ such as ‘bookish’, ‘feverish’ as well as a group of words formed from other word classes such as ‘stand-offish, uppish’ (yet still with negative connotations). The OED indicated that is popular in journalism and colloquially: ‘ -ish has become the favourite ending for forming adjs. for the nonce (esp. of a slighting or depreciatory nature) on proper names of persons, places, or things, and even on phrases, e.g. ‘Mark Twainish, Micawberish, …,West Endish; all-over-ish, at-homeish, devil-may-care-ish, how-d’ye-doish, jolly-good-fellowish, merry-go-roundish, out-of-townish, and the like.’

The suffix<-ish> is also added to adjectives to show approximation: (this sense the students had found and were familiar with) :’bluish’ ‘greenish’ and then onto, again another discovery that I had never before considered , <ish> attaching to monosyllables: ‘thin’ to become ‘thinnish,’ ‘warm ‘to become ‘warmish’, good to become ‘goodish’. Approximation too is indicated with the fourth category where it is used with hours , days, numbers as in : earlyish, fortyish, eightish.( and here my spell check is not happy, wanting to add that hyphen between the base and the suffix. This irritated red line seems to indicate ‘not quite acceptable’!)

The final realization was that of course <-ish> accounted for the Latinate words like ‘vanquish’, ‘vanish’, ‘perish’, ‘finish’ as <–ish> attaches to verbs where in French -iss-, of verbs with what I presume is a suffix: <-ir> e.g. périr to perish, periss-ant, which came from the Latin <-isc>  of inceptive verbs (what are these? More research needed.) This I am assuming accounts for the Latin root vanescere of <vanish>.

All this would make for a great sorting and classifying activity that I will attempt with my students: sorting  many of the words mentioned earlier according to word class, negative and positive connotations, colloquial examples and those from Latin roots passing into English via French .

Still foraging in the OED I was utterly gobsmacked to find that <ish> was once a free base element meaning ‘issue or egress’ and still used but only in terms of law as well as a second meaning of the conclusion of a period of time or a lease- again a legal term! I was even more confounded to see that yes <ish> is, albeit colloquially or used in journalistic discourse, a free base element. Anna will be delighted. Ish. !!

Examples below from where else but the OED:

1986  Sunday Times 19 Oct. (Review section) 51/8   One of those neatly crafted middle-brow plays which, because they have a pleasantly happy ending (well, ish), might make people think that they’ve been handed a soft option.

1990   P. Pulsford Lee’s Ghost (BNC) 41   You must try to remember that some people are normal. Ish.

1991   J. O’Connor Cowboys & Indians (1992) 122   Frank asked if they were linked, romantically… Then he said yeah, he supposed they were, that was one way to put it, in a way. He paused. ‘Ish,’ he admitted. ‘Vaguely.’

1995   C. Bateman Cycle of Violence vi. 94   ‘Trust Davie Morrow.’ ‘You know him?’ ‘Ish. He’s a regular across the road.’

2002   N.Y. Times (National ed.) 5 Sept. d8/5   Mr. Langmead, speaking by telephone from London, hesitated. ‘Ish,’ he said, employing the international shorthand for slight hedge.

Below, two students who at lunchtime I overheard engaging in animated linguistic discourse. They were keen to share their understandings of the concept of a word and asked if could they use the white board to explain! I am pleased by what they have understood so far.