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I was interested to find the term, “Occupy Wall Street’s suit-wearing cousin” appearing in a May 31 New York Times article titled Facing down the Bankers.

It begins with the following line:

Dennis Kelleher runs Better Markets, a nonprofit that pushes for tighter regulation of American banks, something like Occupy Wall Street’s suit-wearing cousin.

We have exactly the same wording as “suit-wearing” in Japanese – Sebiro-wo-kita X - 背広を着たX. But it is always used in a denigrating way, such as describing a vicious politician and a lawyer as a ‘suit-wearing hooligan (or yakuza), and greedy bankers as 'suit-wearing man-eaters.’ In fact a famous political pundit recently published a book in Japan under the title, “Suit-wearing hooligan, XX,” denouncing a boss of a faction of the ruling Democratic Party by name.

I checked Cambridge, Oxford, and Merriam Webster on line dictionaries to confirm exact usage of this word, but none of them has suit-wearing as a headword.

There is no incidence of the word, suit-wearing in Google NGram either.

Is suit-wearing a word that stands alone as a full-fledged adjective, or is it just a simple combination of two words? Is it neutral by implication, unlike the derogatory Japanese usage?

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5 Answers 5

up vote 1 down vote accepted

It's not a special word unto itself, but it's a very common pattern, an informal way of converting a V+N sentence into an adjective.

He is wearing a suit.

converts to

He's a suit-wearing person.

Nominally it just means that the person is wearing a suit. Pragmatically, the pattern is used to point out a feature of someone, something that the person does, that is not particularly favorable, that is usually when attempting to give a long insulting description of someone:

That cotton-picking, carrot-eating, cow-tipping, varmint

Note that these descriptors may not be literally disparaging (eating carrots is pretty innocuous), but the cultural pattern is that it is intended to be an insult.

The particular phrase

Wait a cotton-pickin' minute

was a catch phrase of Bugs Bunny in the 1950's. Here it is only used as an intensifer.

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It's simply using two words together.

Dennis Kelleher runs Better Markets, a nonprofit that pushes for tighter regulation of American banks, something like Occupy Wall Street’s suit-wearing cousin.”

Occupy Wall Street is the name of a protest group, and the protesters generally don't wear suits.

Better Markets, on the other hand, is a group with similar aims, but they wear suits.

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The phrase "suit-wearing cousin" is meant to contrast the Occupy movement's casual attire, and the unprofessional attitude that goes with it, against the formal attire, and the attitude and actions that go with it, of the Better Markets organization. The word "cousin" literally means the offspring of one's aunt or uncle, but the proverbial meaning of something closely related.

(I cannot attest to the attitude or behavior of either group.)

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Your question assumes a false dichotomy between 'a full-fledged adjective' and ' a combination of two words'. The combination of a noun and a participle to form an adjective is perfectly normal; though any individual result may not be common enough to appear in dictionaries, it is neither irregular nor colloquial. Man is a tool-using animal would be the normal phrasing of an academic paper, and You mouth-breathing idiot! may be uncomplimentary but is not bad English. In your example, suited or besuited would also be grammatical, but would hardly fit in a newspaper article.

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1  
What adverb here? –  tchrist May 31 '12 at 23:47

Others have noted that it is common in English to construct an adjective this way.

I am not aware of "suit-wearing" being a word in common use or a widely-recognized idiom. (And just as I wrote that sentence, I realize that I used the adjective "widely-recognized", which follows exactly the same pattern.)

Literally it simply refers to someone who wears a suit. In context it implies someone who is associated with the business world, where people commonly wear suits, rather than the world of street protests. Without reading the rest of the article I can't say whether the usage is intended to be insulting, complimentary, or simply descriptive.

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