Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A very long word I made up with very little meaning

I thought of mentioning parasemipseudoquasiesqueoidishylike somewhere else and then realized I'd never talked about it here.

It started simply enough, I was thinking about the various suffixes for -like.
Latin: -esque

Greek: -oid
Old English: -ish

Like a star becomes:

Star-ish - Old English
Stellar-esque - Latin
Aster-oid - Greek

(When asteroids were first discovered they were just fuzzy points of light in a telescope that looked star-like while clearly not being actual stars.)

But it's more complex than that.  -esque comes from Latin but actually originates in German.

The suffix -y multiple etymologies (all from the same proto-Indo-European root) and actually manages to come from Old English, Latin, and Ancient Greek.  (Most of the time words branch away from a common origin, but sometimes they come together.  In this case both happened.)

And what of -like?

Like is actually from Old English too.  "Starlike" being preferred over "starish" because ... Jasper?

And why just suffixes?

And so I started to create a word with no-root that was composed entirely of prefixes and suffixes that meant "similar to by not the same as."


To break it down:

PARA - Para literally means "beside".  Here meaning something similar enough that you put it beside the real thing, but different enough it isn't in the same place.  As in paramilitary.  A paramilitary organization isn't the legitimate/official military but it's close enough to a military that it's worth putting military in the description and, since there generally is a legitimate/official military, operates off to the side of it.

SEMI - Literally "half" but it comes to mean partial, almost, somewhat, sort of, quasi.  We'll get to quasi.

PSEUDO - Literally "fake".  Pretty easy to see how it comes by the "similar to but not the same as" meaning.  The sun is not a fake bunny.  To be a fake bunny you have to be similar to a bunny in some way.  Shape is the most obvious (as seen in stuffed animals, lawn ornaments, and chocolates) but one could imagine a program that has lines of code act as bunnies.  More straight forward, "fake" and thus "pseudo" means that something isn't the thing but is similar in ways that we might associate with an imitation to the thing.

QUASI - Literally "almost".  A longer definition is "similar to, but not exactly the same as" which you'll note is the definition that I was looking for in these prefixes and suffixes.

Thus end the prefixes.  Now the suffixes:

ESQUE - Blame the French.  This word went from proto-Indo-European to proto-Germanic to Lombardic to Latin to Italian without changing it's core meaning as a simple adjective forming suffix.  Then in French it gained the meaning of "resembling.

OID - Ancient Greek meaning "similar in form but not the same as".  Want to know something fucked up?  Android means "Similar to but not the same as a specifically male person" even though Greek had a perfectly good word that meant person without restricting gender.  Someone somewhere had to decide not to use "Anthropoid" and instead specifically exclude non-male people.  Thankfully we've expanded the meaning, but what the fuck?

ISH - Literally "similar to / somewhat / approximately" but it can also mean "typical of" which lacks the "but not the same as" part.

Y - Arguably the weakest link in the word, but ishy is awesome.  Certainly one can imagine, "It's not X but it's Xy" being said and it does have a lot of overlap with "ish", but of all the parts of this word this is the one that has the least "but not the same as" connotations.

LIKE - This is the last component I added, and not because it's the last part of the word.  Originally I had parasemipseudoquasiesqueoidishy and spent a while figuring out the right order for the bits to go in, then I decided to tack a "Like" onto the end.  Litterally ... "Like".  Not good enough?  Fine.  Litterally, "Having some of the characteristics of."

Put it all together and you get parasemipseudoquasiesqueoidishylike.  What does it mean?  Nothing really.  It has no root.  It has a lot of parts that mean, "Similar to but not the same as []" but nothing to fill the void of [].

Based on the suffixes it should be an adjective, but without something to put between the quasi and the esque it doesn't describe anything.

It's just, sort of, parasemipseudoquasiesqueoidishylike.


  1. Neat.

    (I'm trying to think of use cases, now. Maybe when the [] is strongly implied by context? But even then, what does it mean?)

    1. But even then, what does it mean?

      "Kinda, sorta, but not really"?


      "Is it a real dragon?"

      "More a parasemipseudoquasiesqueoidishylike one, really."

      At least that's the nearest I can figure to a meaning for it.


      Either that or the stacking of "almost/nearly/so forth" means that it's actually quite different.

      Sort of how if you ignore the shape, and the mass, and the color, and the density, and the material, and the cultural associations, and the ... a feather is almost like a bowling ball.

      But of the two, "Kind of, sort of, but no" seems more likely.

    2. Hmm - I can buy that. Especially if the parasemipseudoquasiesqueoidishylike dragon differed from but nevertheless resembled a standard dragon in almost every respect (e.g. armadillo-leather scales, scalding-steam breath, wings for gliding only, magical anxiety instead of fear aura, hoards mica and quartz...).