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Sometimes I adjective my verbs (as opposed to verbing my nouns), making up a new word in the process:

Friday nights are unwindy nights

(unwindy night ~= night for unwinding)

If I do this, is there any case for "dangling" the y off of the end of the verb like so:

Friday nights are unwind-y nights

or is that more confusing?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Of course you are totally free to make up needed words on the spot. This kind of ad-hoc language play is the innate right of all speakers.

The process follows certain rules, nevertheless. Let's take your example:

Friday nights are unwindy nights

At first read, without seeing your explanation, I thought this meant that Friday nights are characterized by a lack of wind. Here, "unwinding" would fit just right and obviate the need for a nonce coinage.

The usual thing is to flag or mark the novel use in some way, so I agree with your idea of "unwind-y," or potentially "unwind-ey" or something to alert the reader that unusual maneuvers are afoot. Unfortunately, "wind" (breeze) and "wind" (coiling) are homographs, so "unwindy" is unhappy.

Consider:

Friday nights are when I unwind. Friday nights are for unwinding. Friday nights I unwind.

While it's always acceptable to push the envelope, language-wise, you have to consider the puzzle you're presenting the reader and offer sufficient clues to allow smooth decoding.

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1  
Nice answer. I like the encouragement of language play. Small point: Would not breezy wind and coiling wind be homographs? –  John Y May 4 '11 at 2:15
    
Yes, they could be termed "homographs." But "homophone" is a category that includes "words spelled the same, having different meanings." Your term is better and more precise. Tip o' the wing. –  The Raven May 4 '11 at 3:07
    
I hate to extend this comment thread, but do you have a reference for your usage of homophone? Perhaps you mean homonym (which can mean homophone or homograph)? I am going by Merriam-Webster. As far as I know, homophone has not yet, through popular (mis)usage, become synonymous with homonym. But surely it is heading there. –  John Y May 4 '11 at 4:33
    
@JohnY: earlham.edu/~peters/writing/homofone.htm –  The Raven May 4 '11 at 7:07
    
Wind (a mass movement of air) and wind (to coil) are not homophones. Homophones are pronounced alike, literally "Homo" (same) "phone" (sound), and not necessarily spelled alike. The pronunciation is absolutely key to it being a homophone or not. Homonyms are usually words that are both spelled and pronounced alike, literally "Homo" (same) "nym" (name). Homograph (same written/drawn), is the correct term, as pronunciation doesn't matter, just how it's written. –  Phoenix May 4 '11 at 11:14

Since unwindy is not an established word that a person would be familiar with, using the hyphen can assist the reader to parse the word properly.

The word unwindy has two possible parses:

  • [[unwind]y] (adjectival form of "unwind")
  • [un[windy]] (not windy, as in weather)

By writing the word as unwind-y, you help the reader to parse unwind as a unit, which can only be interpreted as the verb, and then apply the -y adjectivizing suffix.

Certainly, this construction is non-standard, but so is the word unwindy itself. If you want to use it in an informal context, go for it! Creating ad-hoc words is part of what makes language fun.

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