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How far can we carry the -ish morphism?


Ok so I know a similar(ish) question has been asked before.


I thought that -ish adds the sense of like, similar to, approximately, etc. From which, it would seem the threshold would be the tautologies like-ish / similar-ish.

The question is about the particular modification that -ish makes to a word, unlike other suffixes: like, similar to, etc.

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'morphism'? What do you mean by that? – Mitch Feb 21 '12 at 13:20
@Mitch You got me there. While there should be no issue about what really I mean by it, the issue is what is the right word there. So in a way, I was expecting someone to catch me on that and correct me. Any help? – Kris Feb 22 '12 at 6:13
I'd think 'suffix' is enough. – Mitch Feb 22 '12 at 12:16
Yes, I'd think so, too. – Kris Feb 22 '12 at 12:21
up vote 5 down vote accepted

To me personally (I am not a native speaker but use ish frequently) ish sounds contrived with the word similar. To me, ish means more or less, but a more or less similar question feels like a pleonasm to me. I would use similar on its own or fairly similar rather than similar-ish

So my answer is "an ish too far" ;)

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+1 That was the point in my question. – Kris Feb 21 '12 at 9:38
Yes, I finally realised that and gave my take on it. See update – mplungjan Feb 21 '12 at 9:46
What about "a somewhat similar question". That does not feel pleonasmish to me, does it to you? – JeffSahol Feb 21 '12 at 14:36
Somewhat/fairly same old same old. No problem at all – mplungjan Feb 21 '12 at 15:11

Where you use -ish is, like many language choices, a matter of judgement, depending on what you're saying, who you're saying it to and how you're saying it. If I heard similarish, I would assume that the speaker was not being entirely serious, just seriousish.

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Entirely agreed. You didn't touch upon the fact that 'ish' is different from other morphisms, though. – Kris Feb 21 '12 at 8:03
@Kris: Did you ask us to? Incidentally, it’s perhaps worth repeating the comment made by the British writer and performer, Jonathan Miller: 'I'm not really a Jew; just Jew-ish, not the whole hog.' – Barrie England Feb 21 '12 at 8:26
"How far can we carry the -ish morphism?" – Kris Feb 21 '12 at 8:47
@Kris: As far as you like if it suits you communicative purpose. – Barrie England Feb 21 '12 at 11:48

The (ish) suffix - with brackets, or similar to separate it from the mai word - has become popular over the last few years, in ways that are not necessarily grammatically valid. It means that the preceding word is not to be taken as precisely as it otherwise would be. In fact, it can be used over entire phrases:

I would agree with that - ish.

So how far can it go? As far as you like-ish. As far as it continues to make sense to the reader/listener. I have heard phrases like “a bit ishy” which is a whole new ball-game.

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