The Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines a suffix as ‘a group of letters added at the end of a word to make a new word’. Examples of classic suffixes include -ness, which forms noun such as greatness and –esque, meaning ‘in the style of’, in adjectives such as Kafkaesque.
It may be easy to ignore these modest word parts, but suffixes have their fashions just like any other aspect of English. Once, we only had alcoholics. Then it became common to talk about workaholics, shopaholics, chocoholics, and just about any other kind of –holic one cares to think of. A quick Google search throws up bakeaholic, danceaholic, Kindleaholic, meataholic and many more.
Similarly, where once there was the marathon, we now find the bikeathon, readathon, tweetathon, and even beardathon (where participants grow beards for charity), high-heelathon, and cut-a-thon (in a hairdresser’s salon). The point is that we can now add –aholic or –athon to practically anything and people will understand what we mean.
So what are the modern equivalents of these productive suffixes? Readers will undoubtedly be able to add to this list, but for now I offer the following: -ista, -erati, -rexia and –rexic.
Fashionistas, who work in the fashion industry, have been around for a while, but we are seeing an expansion of related –ista words. Frugalistas contrive to be fashionable whilst maintaining a modest lifestyle, as do recessionistas, though while for the former this may be a matter of choice, for the latter it is a necessity. Fatshionistas promote fashion for the overweight.The magazine Marie Claire even ran an article on Russianistas, highly glamorous women who have become more visible in the UK owing to the prominent business activities of wealthy Russians.
The suffix –ista is not always used in a fashion context, however. It can also simply signal an enthusiasm for something, as when the Guardian newspaper described a supporter of the UK government as a coalitionista or GQ magazine referred to a well-travelled contributor as a globalista.
As in the well-known word literati, the suffix –erati denotes an elite group within a particular field. Technology seems to be a fertile area, with expert internet users known as the weberati and prominent tweeters as the twitterati. Now that Mark Zuckerberg and his friends have made it cool to be uncool, we even find references to the geekerati. In other spheres, leading environmentalists have been called the greenerati and elite mathematicians the numerati. More inventively, the Daily Mail newspaper referred to separating celebrity couples as the splitterati.
A more unfortunate trend is for the suffixes –rexia and –rexic, by analogy with anorexia and anorexic. For example, the Daily Mail described an actress with strikingly bleached hair as a ‘blondarexia sufferer’, and Grazia magazine referred to tanorexics who spend too much time in tanning salons. Similarly, carborexics try extremely hard to avoid activities that generate carbon emissions.
Even though –rexia and –rexic can be used in such superficially light-hearted ways, they do imply disapproval at the degree of obsessiveness involved, and they often describe worryingly extreme behaviour. Gymorexics, for example, exercise themselves to extreme thinness, and pregorexics starve both themselves and the babies growing inside them.
Someone on the brink of anorexia may be described informally as nearlyrexic. Depressingly, The Times has reported on the phenomenon of wannarexia, or aspiring to become anorexic. Another undesirable phenomenon is the practice of alcorexia – also known as drunkorexia – where people deny themselves food in order to ‘save’ the calories for alcohol.
One of the great joys of English is its flexibility and its scope for innovation. How lucky we are to have a language in which even the humble suffix can have its moment in the spotlight, and be used with inventiveness and descriptive force, not to mention a frequent dose of humour.