Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Descriptive Suffix -ish

This post builds on a few other entries that address a specific affix, including The Slippery Suffix -er and The Popular Prefix in-. The lesson suggestions in this post may be modified to apply to grades 3-12, depending on the student. Perhaps we might even apply some ideas to first or second grade.

Words ending with the suffix -ish are often adjectives, but this suffix has several senses. The suffix -ish is flexibly used with a base word to denote 'somewhat, somewhat prone to, or somewhat like a.' For example, we have ticklish, reddish-blue, stylish, childish, boyish, a waspish tongue, a foolish old woman, a coldish wind.

Then we have Spanish, Irish, Scottish, Finnish, Danish, etc. These words are also typically used as adjectives (but not in "We just ate a danish for breakfast."). However, now the suffix creates a different sense. Does Scottish mean 'somewhat like a Scot?'  No, typically it implies that someone or something hails from Scotland. An exception is, "I wore a skirt that looked rather Scottish." Doubtless, we could think of additional exceptions.

However, words like astonish, admonish, tarnish, polish, varnish, and establish are not adjectives; they are typically used as verbs (but polish and varnish are also nouns). Is this even the same suffix? According to David Crystal, it is not. In the comments of his marvelous post On -ish, he states: "This ish [in verbs like tarnish] has a completely different etymology. It's from a French (and ultimately Latin) suffix expressing the beginning of an action."

I suspect this use of -ish, to create a verb, is largely extinct in English, if it ever existed. Perhaps it is found only in verbs that passed into English via French. Do folks today freely create new verbs with -ish, as in nourish and languish? Must I reverbish this post?

To be sure, we also find words like fish, dish, wish, swish, etc. What's going on with this set of words? Do they even contain the suffix -ish? No. There is no meaning in the string of letters in these cases; it is not a morpheme in these words, not an indivisible unit of meaning. Instead, these words comprise a phonogram family.

Read: Read the delightful children's book ish, by Peter Reynolds to the class. A frustrated young artist is encouraged by his little sister, for his sketch may not look exactly like a vase, but it is vase-ish. Visit Book Chatter to meet the author and set up an account to read the book for free, online.

Invent: Encourage students to invent a new -ish word. Perhaps they might name a new group of people, possibly new worlds: "This is the planet Bend, where we speak Bendish."

Detect: Have students play word detective, searching through magazines and newspapers for words ending with the adjective-forming suffix -ish, clipping the words and placing them on a bulletin board. This could be a homework activity. As students read books, have them stay alert for this suffix. They could write their finds on index cards and add them to the class chart.

Write: Eventually, encourage students to use this suffix more frequently in their writing. Why not try writing a poem? As I recall, even my second graders, back in my teaching days, enjoyed limericks.

To some, this blog is just fairish,
While others, this Sunday site cherish.
Fine thinkers resound
On topics profound.

Scholastically extraordinaire-ish!

Play: One way to engage students in critical thinking is to play "Will the Real Suffix Please Stand Up!" After teaching children the adjective-forming suffix -ish, say a word in context. Students stand up and shout the word if it contains the suffix and is an adjective. If not, they remain seated. Then, they write the word in the appropriate column of a two-column chart, as shown below, and they underline the base word. Notice that the base word in mulish is not as transparent as in the other words. Discussion should include the idea that spellers have to drop the final e in mule before adding a suffix that begins with a vowel, as in mule + -ish >>> mulish.

     Will the Real Suffix Please Stand Up!

(Teacher says) Suffix -ish
No suffix
greenish   They found a greenish rock. greenish
darkish  Wear the darkish sweater. darkish
radish   I bit into a crisp, red radish.
radish
fish   See the fish fly!
fish
mulish   The dog is stubborn and mulish. mulish

Sort: More verbally proficient students might sort words into three groups: adjectives that end in the suffix -ish, verbs that end in -ish, and Other. Let partners collaborate during the sorting activity. Encourage discussion and prompt students to provide a rationale for their categorization.

To generate a list of words to sort, visit either More Words or Word Searcher. Links to both search tools are given in the footer of Vocabulogic, in the middle column under Morphology and Etymology. When I ran the search for words of any length containing the letter string ish (not necessarily the suffix) at More Words, I found more than 1,600 words (view the complete list here, sorted by length). Here is a sampling:

Words ending in ish Words ending in ish
accomplish
piggish
admonish
amateurish
angelfish
anguish
tarnish
apish
archerfish
aspish
astonish
babyish
bitterish
blackfish
blackish
blandish
bleakish
blemish
blimpish
blindfish
blockish
blondish
bluish
boarfish
boggish
bonefish
bookish
boorish
perish
ravish
toyish
sheepish
squarish
wolfish
codfish
coldish
coltish
punish
coolish
publish
coquettish
countryish
cowfish
coyish
crankish
crawfish
crayfish
danish
darkish
deafish
dealfish
demolish
depolish
dervish
devilfish
devilish
disrelish
distinguish
dogfish
doggish
dollish
dudish
dullish
dumpish
impish
owlish
relish
purplish

That's all for now. Time for dinner! I have become a bit peckish!

7 comments:

  1. Another great post! Love the limerick! So clever and insightful.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Actually, Jill, I felt a bit sheepish about the limerick, so thank you most kindly. J

    By the way, I have been enjoying your blog on digital literacies, especially the last one with the post on using multimedia to support vocabulary learning.

    (Readers, see Literacy Beat in the hyperlinks at the foot of Vocabulogic.)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Anonymous2/15/2014

    What about the word sourish ? It has the suffix ish and students stand up, right ?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, right. The base is sour and the suffix is -ish. It's not an easy word to articulate, so we aren't likely to use it.

      Delete
  4. Anonymous2/16/2014

    Hi Susan, thank you for your reply. Yes, this word is very rarely used. It is not a formal word, I guess.
    Microsoft office and email editor shows a red wavy line for this word.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I guess it's not. We'd probably say, "fairly sour" or "sorta sour" or whatever... :)

      Delete

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