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I posted a question about the receptivity of the word, “non-view” in “views and non-view” a few days ago. One answerer responded me that though “non-view” is not registered in any (or most) of dictionaries, authors and journalists have freedom of coining neologism.

I understand the view – words evolve along with time. But when I come across an unfamiliar word that I cannot find its heading in any dictionary, I feel uneasy, and start to suspect if that particular coinage of the word is really meaningful, does it really achieve the writer's purpose of inventing word, isn’t it too much for his own good?

With that said, I found the word, “hissable” in the following sentence of a review of the latest movie, “Margin Call,” appearing in today’s New York Times (October 20) under the title, “Number Crunching at the Apocalypse.”

“There are no hissable villains here, no operatic speeches condemning or celebrating greed. Just a bunch of guys (and one woman, Demi Moore) in well-tailored clothes and a state of quiet panic trying to save themselves from a global catastrophe of their own making.”

I looked for “hissable” in Oxford, Cambridge, Merriam-Webster and other online dictionaries, none of which carries the word, “hissable,” though I could find “kissable.”

I guess “hissable” means to be reproached or damned. But is “hiss-able” a received English usage? If it isn’t, I wonder what was the additional value or gain of the author’s deliberately coining “hissable,” or using the word that is not contained in dictionaries at hand, instead of simply using plain English such as reproachful, damnable or whatever well-received. Am I too conservative?

PS. I checked Google Ngram after posting this question, and found that the use of “hissable” has started to rise around 1920 after a hiatus of a brief emergence and quick demise around 1860. It seems to have gained currency though dictionaries cannot catch up it. I tried to find currency of “cryable,” “scoldable,” “tearable,” “shortendable,” “lengthendable” at randam just for fun on Ngram, without success. I still wonder if I can say “you are not coughable during piano concert / pissable on street,” instead of saying “you should refrain from coughing during piano concert / urinating on street.”

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A very similar but more common usage of this pattern is with the word "laughable". Saying "his technique is laughable" is the same as "His technique is so bad it warrants laughing at". –  tenfour Oct 22 '11 at 21:27
@YoichiOishi, I find quite a few in ngrams, also I find searching through books directly more reliable. –  Unreason Nov 22 '11 at 15:08

1 Answer 1

It's a cultural thing. Even though most dictionaries probably wouldn't include hissable, I don't think most native speakers would find it a particularly odd word in OP's context.

Hissing at the villains is probably more associated with pantomime audiences, but it fits perfectly well here. Even though I doubt I've ever seen the "word" hissable before, I'm sure I pick up exactly the intended meaning. It describes an exaggeratedly despicable character in a tale, someone the whole audience can unite in booing and hissing at.

OP should note that adding the -able suffix is a perfectly standard operation in English. Not all such forms will be listed in dictionaries (this one presumably not). Nor will they all be widely accepted, but I think this one would be. It's not a neoligism, just an uncommon but acceptable inflected form of an existing word.

It's also important to note that just because hissable is an acceptable adjective for bad guys in panto/cinema, that doesn't mean it can necessarily be used in any other context at all. Here are over 1500 written instances of the word. Just glancing at the first page or two, I see the word villain a lot, and all references seem to be about fictional antiheroes.

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I find this answer embraceable. –  JeffSahol Oct 22 '11 at 3:44
Oooh! Your comment is so upvoteable, Jeff! –  FumbleFingers Oct 22 '11 at 3:52
Yeah, "-able" is a productive suffix. You can add it to any transitive verb (I think), and the meaning of the derived word is transparent. Dictionaries can't list all derived words. –  morphail Oct 22 '11 at 3:55
@morphail. Can I say “establshable,” “constructable,” “choseable,” “theorizable,” “multiplyzable, “systemizable,” “autorizable,” “decidable,” “sendable,” “leadable,” “attackable,” “beatable,” “kickable,” “sittable,” “droppable,” “cappable” “pennable,” “puttable (in the bottle, not in the sense of selling option of security),” “closable,” “endable,” “finishable,” “begginable,” “startable,” “handable” “headable,” “killable,” “rentable,” all of which just came up top of mind, without any hesitation, or being felt odd when speaking with native English speakers? –  Yoichi Oishi Oct 22 '11 at 4:44
@YoichiOishi By that I mean that they seem like very informal words to me. And some of them sound less odd than others... for instance puttable, startable, handable, headable, establishable sound more odd to me than the others, I'm not sure why. –  morphail Oct 22 '11 at 13:51

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