At the start of each year, to the delight of Aussie word nerds, the Macquarie Dictionary announces which new words have come into common usage in the previous twelve months, and gives us all a People's Choice vote on the Word of the Year.
Of this year's crop, I enjoyed "flappity", "mansplain", "voluntold", "job stopper", "bamboo ceiling", "wikiwash", "mandal", "facekini", "normcore", "decision fatigue", "doge", "compassionista", "precariat", "girlie man", "lifehacking" and "dog surfing", but having had to deal with more politicians, planning bureaucrats and property developers than is really recommended for one's good mental hygiene, would give the gong to "ICACable".
If you're a native speaker of English and you haven't been living under a rock, you can probably take a reasonable stab at the meanings of many of these words, because of your knowledge, or ability to infer, the meanings of their components.
This is especially true if I put them in sentences: "The teenagers became flappity as their idol's limo approached", "Yes, dear, I got two distinctions for statistics at uni, no need to mansplain", or "The whole department was voluntold to help out on Open Day".
Even though "ity", "splain" and "volun" aren't words in their own right, they are used here as meaningful word parts, or morphemes, to build the new meanings. When you know the suffix "able" and that ICAC is the Independent Commission Against Corruption, if I say, "The former Minister's relationships with the property industry are very ICACable", you will understand me perfectly.
Different types of morpheme
In linguistics, morphemes are the smallest meaningful units in a language, and are used to build word meanings as well as their structure. The study of morphology is separate from, but of course related to, the study of phonology (speech sounds), syntax (word types and their use in sentences), semantics (meaning) and pragmatics (language use in context).
Knowing a bit about morphology can help with explaining and demonstrating spelling patterns to kids, so let's have a go at it. Continue reading