or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Friday, November 09, 2007

All Together

I was washing the dishes yesterday before work and a word (describing a spoon) came into my head, full-blown and ready to use: "encrudulated".

It's not a word word: it isn't in any dictionary. I just did a quick Google check and the word exists in only one place, so I'm not the first person to ever have thought it up (though I suppose I could be the second). But its meaning is instantly ascertainable: any English speaker knows, without ever having heard it before, that it means "coated with muck". We can easily disassemble it in our heads: Latin "en-", used to transform a noun into verb; "crud", a Middle English word related to "curd" (really*) meaning "filth" or "muck"; "-ulate", which occurs in a fair number of Latin-derived verbs such as "populate" or "inoculate" and which is also one of the go-to suffixes for invented words such as "discombobulate" (and which is also seen in its adjectival form "-ular" in such inventions as "blogular"); and finally "-ed", the standard past-tense ending.

It is a constant wonder to me that English is as much as anything a toolkit from which to build language. We can take the great majority of its pieces and parts and tinker with them to get the word or meaning we want. We can slap on various affixes; we can thread words together like beads to make compound words and phrasal verbs; we can simply use them as another part of speech, willy-nilly. It is endless, and it is wonderful.

*Really! Starting out as Indo-European "greut-", it became Old English "crudan", "to press", which gave not only "curd", what's left when they whey is pressed out of coagulated cheese, and "crud", but also "crowd", a lot of people pressed together.


Post a Comment

<< Home