FW: word part dictionary?

Frank Abate abatefr at EARTHLINK.NET
Sat May 18 00:08:24 UTC 2002

In a message dated 5/16/2002 11:37:51 AM, andrew.danielson at CMU.EDU writes:

<< Does anyone have a handy (and preferably online) reference for looking
up words by constituent parts?  Of course prefixes can be found in any
regular dictionary, but I occasionally want to be able to look up words
by base part, suffix, or collocated particle. >>

To which Ron Butters replied:


Lawrence Urdang a number of years ago published a two-volume dictionary of
suffixes, I believe. He also put together a prefix dictionary, I believe. I
don't know of any dicitonary of English infixes, but there are very few of
them, as we all know.

Wouldn't "base parts" and "collocated particles" mostly be found in regular
dictionaries as well? Aren't they mostly free morphemes in English
(apologies to -COUTH, etc.)?


Urdang (for the record, it's "Laurence") edited two different books, both
published by Gale in the 1980s (and long since out of print, I believe, but
in many good libraries, and perhaps available used), one called Prefixes and
the other called Suffixes.  These are quite comprehensive and good, in that
they cover all manner of "word-initial" and "word-final" elements in
English, running into 1000+ entries (Prefixes is much longer) in each.  For
each entry, the affix is ID'd, given a def (or defs), and shown in several
example words.

Interestingly, the Suffixes title is organized in right-to-left alpha order,
making it somewhat confusing to anyone who doesn't check the front matter.
However, it also has a conventional left-to-right alpha index of all the
suffixes covered, keyed to the entries in the text, which are numbered
sequentially.  The reason for this was Urdang's insightful observation that,
unlike with prefixes, one can never be sure (without linguistic expertise)
where a suffix begins.  But we all can see where a suffix ends.

The guy who compiled these was Alexander Humez, a quondam IE philologist,
who did a very careful and very exacting job.  (Where are you Alex?)

Also for the record, these were among the first dictionaries ever to be
compiled on a personal computer.  Humez used an Urdang-supplied Osborne
computer, which (for those who may not know) was a pre-IBM PC, vintage 1981.
It weighed about 22 pounds, and had an 8-inch monochrome (green on black)
screen.  The operating system was (pre-Microsoft) CPM (which required 2 KB
or so -- yes, 2 KB!), which was loaded into RAM from a 5.25-inch floppy.
Osbornes had twin floppy drives (no hard drive), one for loading in
application software, the other for writing data produced.  The
word-processing software was Wordstar.  Urdang wrote a bunch of macros to
code in the necessary typographic detail, and a user's manual for Humez to
use to learn the system, the macros, and how to apply them.

Humez never printed out any of his work at his end.  He mailed floppies (no
e-mail then), which were printed out, edited, and corrected to floppies at
Urdang's offices.  Then corrected floppies were sent to the typesetter for
what was then called "automated typesetting".  Bottom line -- the system
worked, and saved hundreds of hours of drudgery.

Not many people know about this pioneering work.

Frank Abate

More information about the Ads-l mailing list