PLEASE DON’T SHOUT!

by Colin McIntosh

shoutyNew words are entering the language all the time. A few of these are completely new and original coinages, but the vast majority are based on the existing stock of words in some way, for example by using affixes (prefixes and suffixes). These can have the effect of changing the meaning of the word in some way, or they can allow the word to be used as a different part of speech, for example by turning a noun into an adjective.

Some of these affixes are more productive than others. The adjective suffix -y has been around for a long time – ever since the birth of English, in fact. Smelly, cloudy, panicky, and sleepy show how it works: just add -y and you have an adjective, usually one with a very obvious meaning. (Notice how it is sometimes necessary to adjust the spelling to make the pronunciation stay the same.)

And it is still one of the most useful suffixes for creating new words. Its beautiful simplicity makes it easy to transform almost any existing word into an adjective, even at the drop of a hat. You can imagine people saying an orange-y smell or a plasticky taste, even though these words are maybe not in the dictionary and probably never will be, simply because they are creative one-offs. But some capture people’s imaginations and take on a life of their own. When this happens we welcome them into the dictionary. Most of them have an informal or humorous feeling, but some are more formal or even technical. Here are some recent additions to the Cambridge dictionary.

Shouty is one that has been very successful, shown by the fact that it can be used with several shades of meaning. Shouty music, for example, sounds like shouting, and shouty people shout a lot. Shouty headlines seem to be shouting at you because they try to grab your attention, and shouty capitals (text written all in capitals, for example in an email) are considered rude in modern netiquette because they appear to be too obviously shouting out their own importance.

Doomy music, for example in a movie, creates an atmosphere of doom or a feeling that something bad is going to happen. (Doom-laden would be a more formal alternative.) A whiny voice (from the verb whine) is one that seems to be complaining, especially in a way that you find annoying. A mouthy teenager is one who expresses his or her opinions loudly, especially in a way that is rude or insensitive. (Here the meaning is less obvious; it seems to be more related to the phrasal verb mouth off, meaning “complain loudly”.) Gobby (UK) has a similar meaning.

Technical uses of the suffix include lossy (involving the loss of data or of electrical energy), used especially when talking about music files on computer. The opposite is lossless. A laggy computer, internet connection, etc. is slow, resulting in a delay, or lag, in producing an image, for example.

If you keep your ears open, you’ll probably notice a lot more of these new -y adjectives. They’re just one of the ways writers and speakers like to be creative in English.

10 thoughts on “PLEASE DON’T SHOUT!

  1. On Tuesday, 9 February 2016, About Words – Cambridge Dictionaries Online blog wrote:

    > colinjmcintosh posted: “by Colin McIntosh​ New words are entering the > language all the time. A few of these are completely new and original > coinages, but the vast majority are based on the existing stock of words in > some way, for example by using affixes (prefixes and suffixe” >

  2. Pingback: Fashionistas, baristas, peaceniks, and beatniks | About Words - Cambridge Dictionaries Online blog

  3. Pingback: Making an Adjective with Suffix -y (Translating Adjective into Indonesian) | Ridwan Arifin

  4. Pingback: PLEASE DON’T SHOUT! | 21st-century words

  5. Pingback: Fashionistas, baristas, peaceniks, and beatniks | 21st-century words

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