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July 8, 1974


JAMA. 1974;229(2):191-192. doi:10.1001/jama.1974.03230400053036

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So great is current interest in the origin and behavior of words, that a paper with the title "Living Language" (N Engl J Med 289:1298-1300, 1973) does not seem irrelevant in a medical journal. Nor is it astonishing to find in one issue of a literary magazine (SR World, Jan 12, 1974) an article on derivations of words, another on their misuse, and an essay by Thomas H. Middleton on —of all things—the suffix -ish. Suffixes are of particular concern to medicine. Without -itis, -osis, -opathy, -otomy, and -ectomy, medical terminology would be a denuded, withered tree. But can we get emotional about -ish?

Middleton finds -ish depressing. In the "fullish" feeling or in the "two-thirtyish" appointment it casts a shadow of uncertainty over the word that it qualifies. Sometimes it adds a pejorative note. Unlike -like and -ly, which often compliment, -ish detracts. "Mannish" is not flattering,