The Ys Have It.

Elizabeth Manus has a charming blog called The Ys Have It; it’s a collection of words ending in Y, e.g. Governmentality (“Scholars are already familiar with this word. It is new to me.”):

As defined by Dr. Clare O’Farrell, “Foucault originally used the term ‘governmentality’ to describe a particular way of administering populations in modern European history within the context of the rise of the idea of the State. He later expanded his definition to encompass the techniques and procedures which are designed to govern the conduct of both individuals and populations at every level [sic] not just the administrative or political level.”

Check it out, especially if you like words ending in Y!


  1. I approvy.

  2. I thought you woody!

  3. J.W. Brewer says

    While the processes that generate nouns like “governmentality” or “cohomology” are reasonably productive, my sense is that ADJECTIVE-y is so productive that the set of y-final words is not usefully bounded. Which of course is good if you want this blog to have enough new material to keep going indefinitely? ADJECTIVE-ish is likewise unboundedly productive, so I guess you can debate whether for a given ADJECTIVE there’s any stable nuance of semantic difference between the -ish and the -y.

  4. The first non-adjectivy word I thought of was orrery. The blog featured it ten years ago already.

  5. Which of course is good if you want this blog to have enough new material to keep going indefinitely?

    “The -Grys Have It” would have had a very limited lifespan.

  6. David Eddyshaw says

    No Malagasy …

  7. cuchuflete says
  8. Thank you for the comments!

    And, J.W. Brewer: I’d like to understand your comment better. What does “unboundedly productive” mean?

    I’ve been wondering about -ish for a while.

    In 2009, I tried to teach myself a very little something about -y and posted about it. If you search my blog for Suffix, you’ll see the suffix primer. The Winston to which I refer is my _Winston Simplified Dictionary: Intermediate Edition_, which once belonged to The Packard School, 252 Lexington Avenue, in New York City. (The entire set for school children looks quite nice:

  9. What does “unboundedly productive” mean?

    It means you can add the suffix to pretty much anything — there’s not a restricted set of forms.

  10. Wookey.
    (See also the Glory Hole thread.)

  11. A lot of jiggery pokery.

    Fantastic link, thankx

  12. The blog (at least its first page) does not mention “bakery,” “smithy,” “grocery,” and other “NOUNy” words that mean “the place where the NOUN works.”

  13. David Marjanović says

    Aren’t these two etymologically separate things? The one in smithy is ancient, but -ery, I’d have thought, was from French -erie; that’s definitely where the end-stressed German version -erei is from (and indeed there’s Bäckerei).

  14. David: Diachronically you are right, but I suspect that synchronically a good case could be made that all these instances of -y are, in the minds of L1 English speakers, a single suffix.

    Or not, in the case of the unboundedly productive -y element, which, based on coinages such as “Heart of darkness-y” used as an adjective to describe the movie “Apocalypse Now” (Buffy the vampire slayer, Season 4, Episode 22, “Restless”, scene 1, second exchange between Willow and Xander, in case you thought I had made up the form “Heart of darkness-y”) probably deserves to be called a clitic instead of a suffix.

  15. Arabic nisba is productive in English, but sadly -i.

  16. David Marjanović says

    -y in adjectives is etymologically yet another matter, cognate with German -ig, and not related to the one in smithy either.

    I don’t think it should be called a clitic if Heart of Darkness is considered an indivisible name.

  17. Jen in Edinburgh says

    Can you be boundedly productive?

  18. David: I wondered whether you could treat “Heart of Darkness” as monomorphemic, and it seems to me you cannot: I am no native speaker of English, but whereas “”Apocalypse now” is very Heart-of-darkness-y” is acceptable, “”Apocalypse now” was filmed Heart-of-Darkness-(y)-ly” strikes me as dubious if not impossible, despite the productive use of -ly as an adverb-forming suffix in English. The element -y may not be a clitic, but it is more clitic-y (sorry, couldn’t resist!) than -ly, it seems.

    Hmm. A question for the L1 anglophones of the Hattery: How do “”Apocalypse now” is a very Heart-of-Darkness-ish film”, “”Apocalypse now” is Heart-of-darkness-er than “Bambi””, “”Apocalypse now” is the Heart-of-darkness-est movie made about the Vietnam war” each sound? To me all seem possible, and if I am right this might suggest that, like -y-, the three “suffixes” -ish, er and -est are in fact clitics (or, at least, clitic-y-er than -ly…)

  19. It’s true that -ly is a productive suffix for forming adverbs from adjectives, but “Heart of Darkness” is not an adjective. You can’t stick -ly on just any noun.

  20. Kieth Ivey covered the adverbial suffix. As to, “Apocalypse Now is a very Heart-of-Darkness-ish film,” it struck me as grammatical. Indeed, it was sufficiently grammatical that after reading it, my train of thought immediately and spontaneously moved to the question of whether that was an accurate (not merely grammatical) description of Apocalypse Now. It seemed to me that the suffix –ish gave a misleading impression about the relationship between the film and the book that the suffix –y did not.

  21. Etienne: not an ideal example, because -er and -est don’t attach to long things anyway. “More Heart-of-Darknessy”? Sure! (Says this fellow non-native speaker.) Just like, say “More Two-Year-College-y”.

  22. Keith Ivey: Hence my curiosity about whether “Heart-of-darkness-er/est” is acceptable to (possibly only some) English speakers, as I suspect it is (I have definitely heard native speakers attach “er” and “est” to phrases): Since “er/est” are attached to adjectives only, it would indicate that “Heart-of-darkness” has adjectival status, making it odd indeed that the -ly ending cannot be attached to this adjective. A clitic-versus-suffix analysis may not be the only solution to the problem, but the prohibition against adverbial “ly” being attached to “Heart-of-darkness” (unlike -y, -er and -est) definitely seems to be a problem.

  23. He said “more heart-of-darknessy”, so you’d have to go “heart-of-darknessily”. But I don’t think -y really works. It sounds so contrived that it draws attention to the construction rather than to what you’re trying to say. The only suffix that works for me is -ish, in part because -ish carries a sense of “this isn’t exactly accurate but it’ll do.”

  24. Just ran across this in an ancient thread:

    dearieme says
    August 18, 2009 at 9:22 am

    An Adelaide estate agent offered us a house to rent and then said “Oh but the yard’s too dinky-winky for your littly”. Curse-worthy, don’t you think?

  25. I wonder whatever happened to Yvy Tyvy.

  26. David Marjanović says

    I actually think -ish is currently degrammaticalizing. It’ll be complete once you can say “in a rather ish way”, which doesn’t seem far off.

  27. all these instances of -y are, in the minds of L1 English speakers, a single suffix

    Let’s distinguish (a) the speaker’s language apparatus as unconsciously applied to their L1; from (b) the speaker’s (naive or educated) conscious metalinguistic understanding of their L1. Both (a) and (b) are in the speaker’s mind

    As regards sense (a) it seems obvious that -y and -ery remain distinct productive suffixes applicable to different sets of roots.

    As regards sense (b) I find it hard to estimate the relative proportions of L1 speakers who (i) think of them as separate suffixes (ii) think of them as the same suffix (iii) have never thought about the question (iv) do not possess a sufficiently sophisticated metalinguistic model to think about it.

  28. PlasticPaddy says

    I would say “ish” and “y” are used by different sets of speakers for different purposes, i.e., the person who would say “Isn’t he the darlingest teeny-weeny bundle of joy” is not the same person who would say “this blended red is best described as Chateau-Neuf-du-Pape-ish with a raspberry-ish nose and a roughish finish [not a suffix].” I detect a slight lack of empathy for the former set of speakers 😊.

  29. My wife and I just watched the commentary track for the Criterion DVD of The Grand Budapest Hotel; we loved the movie, but it was the worst commentary we’ve ever seen — it was Anderson and Goldblum and a couple of other people from the filming yakking, just saying whatever popped into their heads, ignoring the movie almost entirely. But I was rewarded when one of them used the word “fine-tooth-combèdly,” which I hasten to report here.

  30. Was it “fine-tooth–combèdly” and not “fine–tooth-combèdly”? One is a combedly of errors.

  31. John Cowan says

    I detect a slight lack of empathy for the former set of speakers.

    Unless the referent is a baby, to be sure.

  32. marie-lucie says

    The two speakers sound like the two halves of an oldish couple entertaining a younger one who have a new baby. The first speaker is an elderly lady with considerable experience in greeting young mothers, the second one an elderly gentleman displaying his knowledge and appreciation of wines, possibly after sampling the bottle brought by the less socially adept young husband.

  33. Linked from ‘The Race to Document Endangered Languages’,

    Paraphyly, Monophyly, Polyphyly. Three ‘y’s in a 9-letter word must earn a bonus point?

  34. @AntC: Those words, ending in “-phyly,” just sound weird to me. However they are stressed, it doesn’t sounds quite right. I suppose this is related to the fact that the adjectival forms (e.g. polyphyletic) are far more common, although I’m sure what is cause and what is effect there.

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