more on -er

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Mon Nov 23 01:13:39 UTC 2009

At 5:57 PM -0500 11/22/09, RonButters at AOL.COM wrote:
>A few more thoughts:
>1. Someone else observed that it is the application to nouns rather than
>verbs that is unusual: truther, tea-bagger, etc. Others are synecdochical:
>tree-hugger. Perhaps it is just the fact that noun-attachment is a sort-of
>grammatical innovation that suggests that the usage is a sarcastic
>hence pejorative? Note that the availability of respectful alternatives may
>be a factor: CHRISTER sounds like a nasty way of saying CHRISTIAN.
>2. Even so, -er suffixation on nouns does not strike me as always
>perjorative: historically there is NEW-DEALER, and the suffix
>applies non-(it seems
>to me)-pejoratively and promiuscuously to organizational abbreviations such
>as AARP-er and even ACLU-er.
>3. It seems to work best with one- and two-syllable (nonacronymic) words
>that do not end in [r], but not three- or more: *HELL'S ANGELSER, no:
>4. Context is important: BIKER might more likely be seen as pejorative if
>it refers to a motorcycle-club member than bicycle enthusiast.
>The American Dialect Society -

In my earlier posting on this, I alleged that most of the relevant
pejorative -er formations allude to ideological (religious and/or
political) positions--flat-earther, bra-burner, truther, birther,
tea-bagger, one worlder, young earther (which I can now confirm a
putative 21K hits for).  This is why I didn't think this particular
word-formation rule applied to "Jack the Ripper" (since there's no
Jack-the-Rip movement he subscribed to) and why I was skeptical about
"Mad Hatter".  I don't see why one would expect "Hell's Angel-er" for
the same reason, or even a necessarily pejorative sense for "biker".
"Christer" is interesting, since of course it does correspond to the
generalization, as do "Quaker", "Shaker", and "Holy Roller, all of
which at least originated as pejoratives.


The American Dialect Society -

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