11.06.2006

inventaholism

it doesn't exactly qualify as 'usage of the week' since it's been going on for so long, but there's this neat thing we do when we talk about addiction to things:

chocoholic (this spelling is only slightly more common than 'chocaholic' according to google. both are domain names, but chocoholic.com is much fancier.)
workaholic
readaholic
funaholic
ballaholic

really, whatever-you-like-aholic. so we seem to append the morpheme -aholic (according to certain phonological/phonotactic rules) to mean 'addicted to that noun.' any reasonable person might guess that '-aholic' means something like 'addicted to.'

but consider the form 'alcoholic'. here (and I think most people would argue that this is the origination of the -aholic morpheme), we're actually just appending 'ic'. so how did -ahol become attached from 'alcohol'?

the suffix -aholic has its own listing in the OED online. it reads:
The final element of WORKAHOLIC (after ALCOHOLIC n. 2) used as a suffix forming ns., as computerholic, newsaholic, spendaholic, etc., (chiefly humorous nonce-words) denoting one who appears to be addicted to the object, activity, etc., specified; a person subject to an inordinate craving for or obsession with (something).


according to wikipedia:
Etymologically, "chocoholic" is a blend of "chocolate" and "alcoholic", though some linguists complain that the word, by construction, implies addiction to "chocohol" rather than "chocolate", suggesting that chocolatic is a more appropriate neologism than chocoholic.

under this etymologic history, the word is a portmanteau, but I would argue that -aholic is productive enough as a suffix to merit giving it that label.

the fallacy of the linguists' argument as presented in the wikipedia quotation lies in the idea that construction should imply definite relationships. sure, construction often does and can imply things about meaning (maybe because speakers are aware that novel utterances are more likely to be understood if they follow established patterns?), but the idea that some neologisms are 'more appropriate' than others stems from the mistaken assumption that causality matters in language change. again, speakers tend to make novel utterances predictable, not necessarily logical. it's correlation, not causation, that produces meaning.

9 comments:

Scott said...

stop drinking all that haterade and being such a rageaholic!

Anonymous said...

This is a totally common phenomenon, and I don't actually think "linguists" are bothered as much as nerdy language "mavens" (see Pinker) would be. Another example is the "burger" family: cheeseburger, etc. The root of "hamburger" is "hamburg", of course, but the ham- unit feels like it refers to the meat even though it didn't originally. So we reinterpret the components and replace the "ham" piece, leaving "burger" as the new root.

Who cares?

Anonymous said...

would it kill you to use initial caps in sentences? just looks sloppy, which your thinking ain't.

Anonymous said...

Homer Simpson: I'm a rageaholic. I'm addicted to rageahol.

Kevin Fox said...

'-gate' is another such example. The apartment building was called 'Watergate' but now every government scandal is 'gated. Travelgate, Lewinskygate, filegate. Heck, Wikipedia has it covered.

Matt said...

Yeah, no linguist worth the title would ever "complain" because actual usage of a language diverges from what might be expected. Investigating and explaining that kind of thing is how linguists pay their rent.

My personal theory, based on absolutely no research, is that the first joke word coined like this was "workaholic" or "chocoholic". "Work" and "choc" are both single syllables ending the same sound as "alc", so that replacing the single syllable "alc" in "alcoholic" is the obvious, euphonic choice. Once "workaholic/chocoholic" is established, "-(a/o)holic" becomes the standard, and it spreads from there...

Anonymous said...

See also "gyrocopter." It's obviously derived from "gyro" (spinning) + "copter," which is nonsense. The "copter" part clearly is clearly meant to be from "helicopter," but the morphemes for that word are "helico" (spiral) and "pter" (wing). But people pulled out the "copter" part and decided that would apply to the general class of machines.

An interesting question is why it usually seems to be the end of words (-aholic, -burger, -copter) that's sliced off to create a related morpheme in English. (Well, OK, it's interesting to me.)

Anonymous said...

maybe you should read Language Log or something

Anonymous said...

Hi, if I were to describe a person who is obssessed with chairs
, in your opinon, which word best describes him:
"chairholic", "chairaholic" or "chairoholic"? Thanks.

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