Dictionary of Affixes.

Another great resource I have learned about, via Stan Carey, is the Dictionary of Affixes, created by Michael Quinion (known to me for his excellent World Wide Words). In the Introduction, Quinion says:

This site is about some of the building blocks of the English language, those beginnings and endings that help form a large proportion of the words we use. […] The entries on this site cover most of those active in the language today, as well as others that have contributed to the language in the past; only the most specialist, obscure or archaic have been left out. However, place-name affixes (-burgh, -ham, -thwaite, -wick) have been excluded. Personal name affixes such as Fitz-, Mac-, and -son have also been omitted.

The aim throughout has been to provide many examples, on the principle that it is easier to absorb the subtleties of the way such forms are used when they are seen in action. A second aim has been to show links between words, both grammatically and thematically; where possible I have tried to give some background and explain how words have come to mean what they do.

Here’s a sample entry, for -ad²:


Indicating a direction towards some part of the body.

[Latin ad, to or towards.]

A set of adverbs was invented in 1803 by the Scottish anatomist John Barclay (1758–1826) in his book A New Anatomical Nomenclature; he created them from adjectives in ‑al (see ‑al¹) by replacing that ending with ‑ad, so for example making ventrad, towards the abdominal surface of the body, from ventral. They are specialist words, mainly confined to zoology. Two further examples are cephalad (Greek kephalē, head), towards the head, and caudad (Latin cauda, tail), towards the tail.

Making reference books available online when they go out of print is a great idea.


  1. >and caudad (Latin cauda, tail), towards the tail.

    With the dialectical infix -r- meaning ‘grab’ or ‘grip’, this becomes craudad or crawdad – something you eat by holding it near the tail.

    Just a theory.

  2. @Ryan: I assume that’s a joke, but I looked at the etymological history of crawdad, and there are some interesting features. Crawdad is obviously from the dialectical crawfish by fanciful alteration. But it’s when you get back to crayfish that things get interesting. The “fish” part is not etymological. The word ultimately comes from Germanic, but not directly, having taking a confusion-causing detour through French. From Old or Middle High German krebez (which also produced modern German krebs), it was laundered though French dialects in forms like escrevisse, crevice, crevisse, where the last syllable was close enough to be replaced by folk etymology with “fish.”

  3. David Marjanović says


    Interestingly, that set of terms is used in German at every occasion, but hardly ever in English, where -al(ly) is extended instead.


    A root cognate of crab with a strange suffix *-it-.

  4. That is interesting. My work is indirectly linked to someone named Krebs. This will be in the back of my mind every time.

    Also can’t help but wonder how they’d taste a la Calabash.

    When I moved home after college my rent was to make dinner once/week. I once set out to make an etouffe. Between a 3-hour round trip on the el to a fish market and the time spent pulling the intestines out of the crawdads, it would have been easier to just get a job.

  5. David Eddyshaw says

    hardly ever in English

    It’s standard in talking about anatomy in English.

  6. David Marjanović says

    Not by vertebrate paleontologists. I suppose it’s different in human anatomy?

  7. I checked some anatomical terms with -ad versus -ally endings on Google Ngrams, and in current English usage, the -ally version was more common for all the ones I tried. Sometimes the difference was gargantuan, but sometimes it was closer. For the first one I tried, actually, caudad versus caudally, the latter only seems to have become more common in the second half of the twentieth century. There was also not that much different between the supposedly British and American book collections, so this is probably not related to a difference between dialects.

  8. David Eddyshaw says

    Specifically, it’s used in the teaching and learning of human anatomy at medical school, at least in the UK; embryology too. It was familiar to me, anyhow.

  9. PlasticPaddy says

    @dm 14 June
    Re Krebs, do you know how κάραβος fits in? Or is this totally unrelated?

  10. David Marjanović says


    No idea, except it can’t be a straightforward cognate. I might speculate it’s a Crotonian loan…

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