Why “USSR” but not “UCSR”?

USSR stands for Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The adjective “Soviet” is formed from the noun “Soviet” which in Russian means “Council”. (That was roughly the idea behind the revolution and USSR formation that the workers and peasants should rule the state by means of “councils”). So why was some analogous word not created in … Read more

Why is it “Deadpool”, not “Dead Pool”?

I have watched the movie Deadpool. I found the name quite interesting and read the following article about its origin. As explained in the movie, Deadpool takes his name from the “dead pool” at the seedy mercenary bar he frequents. Though the term usually refers to a group bet on which celebrity will die next, … Read more

Word formation with the nominal suffix -tion: when and why do we insert an “a”?

Recently, a colleague became flustered when she used orientate instead of orient. She says she frequently makes this sort of “back formation error” because of the nominal form, which is orientation. This has gotten me thinking about how nominal forms are created. Certainly, it is unambiguous for words that end in -ate or -ite (I … Read more

“Mutexes” or “mutices”?

When we create new words ending in -ex (mutex being short for mutual exclusion), should we (may we?) use the Latin plural form because the suffix is similar to the latin suffix -ex? (Personally I’ve always favoured the -ices form.) Answer As you say mutex comes from mutual exclusion, which is, obviously, not Latin origin; … Read more

Why is it “grandfather”, but “great-uncle”?

I know that there are six forms of this word, but “great-uncle” is most common (“great-aunt” has a similar graph). Why is this, if “grandfather” and “grandmother” are common? http://ngrams.googlelabs.com/chart?content=great+-+uncle%2Cgreat+uncle%2Cgrand+-+uncle%2Cgranduncle%2Cgreatuncle%2Cgrand+uncle&year_start=1800&year_end=2008&corpus=0&smoothing=3 Answer Both grand- and great- seem to be translating the French grand-, as in grand-oncle and so on. French uses grand- consistently for the upward … Read more

A murder of crows?

I love the subset of collective nouns known as the terms of venery. These are collective nouns specific to a particular group of animals. Some of the more inventive examples are: a murder of crows, a crash of rhinos, a mischief of mice, and a puddling of ducks (specifically swimming ducks). Is there a standard … Read more

Origin of “-ing”

What is the origin of the suffix -ing used to form gerunds and present participles? Why is the suffix the same in both cases? Answer The two -ing‘s are actually not the same etymologically. One developed from Proto-Germanic *-ungō, which has survived in contemporary German (packaging — Verpackung). The other -ing developed from Old English … Read more

How are diminutives formed in recent English words?

A large variety of suffixes were used to form diminutives in English. The Wikipedia page on diminutives shows these: * -k/-ock/-uck: balk, bollock, bullock, buttock, fetlock, folk, hark, hillock, jerk, mark, mattock (OE mattuc), milk, mullock, pillock, smirk, snack, spark, stalk, talk, whelk, work, yolk * -n/-en/-on (accusative or feminine): burden, chicken, even, heaven (OE … Read more