I read a lot. I occasionally see "oaken" used to describe something made out of oak. It's used more frequently in historical or romantic fiction. Does common usage make it right?

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Of course it does. That's what makes a term right -- a general consensus that it's OK to use a particular term in a particular way, as demonstrated by people's actual linguistic practice.

In other words, usage (not ex-cathedra pronouncements and prescriptions from academicians and self-appointed 'experts') is the ultimate arbiter of rightness.

Getting back to 'oaken':

"The -en suffix is used to form adjectives of source or material from nouns, e.g. ashen, golden, oaken."

(Explanation of -en from The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, 1993.)

  • Yes. Thorin Oakshield just wouldn't sound right. (But please, Erik, put in a caveat like 'The point of productivity is not that you can [eg] add a suffix to any word you please, but that [one] can be added to some words to create new words.' [ Cerberus] before we start seeing and arguing about hawthornen, sycamoren, gingkoen, firen, platinumen, chromiumen ...) – Edwin Ashworth Sep 13 '14 at 7:05
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    See what I mean :-( (The spell-checker rejected 'gingkoen' quite satisfactorily.) But yes, the non-word I actually intended was of course ginkgoen ;-) – Edwin Ashworth Sep 13 '14 at 7:26
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    Here's a tip, because there are a few users who foam at the mouth when it comes to hyphens substituting dashes. On keyboard, press ALT and then 0151 on the number pad and voila! — a proper dash— this works on Microsoft though. – Mari-Lou A Sep 13 '14 at 7:44
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    @ Mari-Lou A I prefer the dashes that automatically occur at the end of all comments, and I copy and paste. If there's no comment around, I put in a temporary one (usually about 20 z's). But then I can't spell ginkgo. – Edwin Ashworth Sep 13 '14 at 7:58
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    @Mari-LouA — Thanks for the tip — but I have to make a dash for it now — – Erik Kowal Sep 13 '14 at 8:57

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