or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Saturday, August 06, 2005


Yesterday I wrote about a published mistake (which has been corrected, if you care to check), but I make mistakes, too--I just catch them before I write about them (I hope). And then I write about them anyway.

Today I saw in print the word "lithesome", and I immediately had dark thoughts about the skills of the writer or editor. Everyone knows that "-some" is attached to nouns or verbs to turn them into adjectives!

Well, generally, yes, but not in this case. "Lithesome" is, in fact, a word, and there are other adjective-plus-"-some" words in English, too, such as "gladsome".

There is a sense of the suffix ("comprising a number of members") that allows it to follow an adjective and turns that adjective into a noun, but that adjective has to be a number: "threesome", for example. That's a very restricted case; otherwise "-some" turns something into an adjective, and nearly every other instance of the suffix in English sees it yoked to a noun ("adventuresome", "toothsome") or a verb ("tiresome", "cuddlesome"). Even "gruesome" attaches the suffix to a verb: in this case, an obsolete one which once meant "to shudder with fear".

The suffix came into Old English from Germanic languages, and, as it turns out, was originally attached to both nouns and adjectives: slapping it onto verbs was a later refinement. So I was wrong.

However, there was some good to come of it; when I was checking out the word "lithesome", I found in the definition of the word "lissome", and the light bulb lit up again--always an enjoyable feeling--as I realized that they must be the same word. "Lissom", or "lissome" (I prefer the first spelling), is in fact a variant of "lithesome".

While I'm on the subject, there's a third use of "-some" as a suffix, a scientific or medical one that stems from the Greek word "soma", meaning "body", in such words as "chromosome". I suppose I don't even need to say that this is completely unrelated to the other two.


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