I only know the suffix is currently informalish. What is its provenience? What was the original meaning?


1 Answer 1


The suffix -ish comes from Old English -isc and is a diminutive.

So it means the word is lessened in intensity. Normalish (while not a proper word) means a bit normal. Yellowish means the thing is a bit yellow. Smallish means something is small, but not overly so.

  • 5
    There is of course the suffix -y, which can have the same or similar meaning - as in yellowy, for example. Oftentimes if the answer is "something-ish", there's an exagerated pause before stressed & stretched ish. That's easier to do with -ish than just -y, which is why I guess it's always first choice for the informal slang context. Mar 31, 2011 at 22:42
  • When appended to times or dates (12 o'clock-ish), it means approximately. Apr 1, 2011 at 3:22
  • 2
    Eh? -ish isn't a diminutive. It's just an adjectivising suffix. Sure, it's cognate with suffixes that are diminutives in some other languages, but in Germanic in general, it's just one of the two most common adjectivising suffixes, with no diminutive meaning. Jun 16, 2015 at 9:28
  • @JanusBahsJacquet when used as the terminal part of a word, it's easy to argue that "ish" is an adjectivising suffix. But when hyphenated, it's normally understood, at least to native speakers of American English, as a diminutive. Even the "approximate" meaning is easily understood as a diminutive of a specific amount.
    – Jeffiekins
    Jan 31 at 21:25
  • @Jeffiekins When used with adjectives, the meaning is ‘nearly [adj]’ or ‘not quite [adj], but close’ – a meaning derived from the base meaning of ‘akin to [noun] in nature’. The meaning with adjectives is not a million miles from a diminutive (‘a little bit X’), but it’s not quite the same either: the end result may be the same (‘not quite small, but close to it’ ≈ ‘a bit small’), but the emphasis is different. The meaning with nouns is in no way diminutive in nature: ‘boyish’ does not mean ‘small boy’, etc. Jan 31 at 23:25

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