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Oct 17, 2011
This week's theme
Back-formations

This week's words
euthanize
admix
darkle
intuit
quisle

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A.Word.A.Day
with Anu Garg

Swindle, donate, and brainwash. Can there be anything common among those three actions? What unites these verb forms is that all of them are coined by a process known as back-formation. It's a reverse process in which words are formed by subtraction of an affix. That means the previously mentioned verbs were derived from the nouns swindler, donation, and brainwashing, respectively (unlike the usual way: nouns forming from verbs, such as lover from the verb love).

Back-formations are often the result of erroneous usage. In Middle English, the original word for pea was pease. It was mistakenly considered a plural and thus people started using the supposedly singular form pea. Since then, instead of the usual pease soup, we have been slurping pea soup.

This week let's look at five more back-formations.

euthanize

PRONUNCIATION:
(YOO-thuh-nyz)

MEANING:
verb tr.: Ending life for humane reasons, such as to avoid pain from an incurable condition.

ETYMOLOGY:
Back-formation from euthanasia (mercy killing), from Greek eu- (good) + thanatos (death). Earliest documented use: 1931. A related word is thanatophobia (an abnormal fear of death).

USAGE:
"A terminally sick humpback whale that became stranded on a beach in Western Australia two weeks ago was euthanized Thursday with an explosive charge."
Stranded, Sick Whale Euthanized With Explosives; Associated Press (New York); Sep 3, 2010.

A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:
A problem well stated is a problem half solved. -Charles F. Kettering, inventor and engineer (1876-1958)

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