Heard on The Judges: crack

Mark Mandel thnidu at GMAIL.COM
Sat Apr 12 13:56:01 UTC 2008

On Sat, Apr 12, 2008 at 3:00 AM, Seán Fitzpatrick
<grendel.jjf at verizon.net> wrote:
> << This feels like something that's also used in other dialects. Is it? >>
>  Indeed, yes.  At my mother's knee in both of the ways you use it.  The "ish"
>  suffix is applied to adjectives to indicate uncertainty or approximation:
>  ten-ish (about ten o'clock); large-ish (sort of large; not small,
>  certainly--getting there, but not yet what you'd call really LARGE);
>  greenish (slightly green, e.g., his complexion took on a greenish tinge).
>  "Ish" is also applied to some nouns in the way you describe to indicate a
>  quality:  girlish, boyish, manish (of a woman).

Ditto. Except it's spelled with a double N, "mannish". (Cf. "tanning",

OED says:

 1. In OE. and the cognate langs., chiefly forming gentile adjs. from
national names: e.g. British, English, Scottish

  2. Added to other ns., with the sense 'Of or belonging to a person
or thing, of the nature or character of'. ... In later times this
ending has become exceedingly common, sometimes in the earlier
colourless sense as boyish, girlish, waggish, but chiefly in a
derogatory sense, 'Having the (bad or objectionable) qualities of': as
in apish,  ... mannish,... womanish. ...

    3. Added to adjs. with the sense 'Of the nature of, approaching
the quality of, somewhat', apparently first with words of colour:
bluish, and now, in colloquial use, possible with nearly all
monosyllabic adjs., and some others, e.g. brightish, broadish,
coldish, dimmish, goodish,

    4. Added to names of hours of the day or numbers of years to
denote: round about, somewhere near (the time or period of) (prob.
after earlyish, latish).

1916 'PETER' Trench Yarns ix. 110 'What time shall I come?'
'Elevenish,' Sam replied.
1972 C. FREMLIN Appointment with Yesterday iv. 24 This anxious
thirty-five-ish person.

Wilson's cited "crackish" is an interesting extension. It doesn't mean
"sort of like crack", but "sort of like a user of crack".

Mark Mandel

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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