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One definition of the suffix -monger is:

denoting a dealer or trader in a specified commodity.

It is no longer common: I have always assumed it was more frequent in archaic usage.

What interests me, though, is why it has persisted only for certain trades. For example, we still say (at least in the UK) "fishmonger" for someone who sells fish and (more rarely) ironmonger for someone that sells metal items and tools.

So: why does this suffix only affix to certain trades. Why, for example, do we not say "clothmonger" for someone who retails cloth or yarn?

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  • "Wars" and "scares" are other things that are habitually mongered. – JHCL Nov 4 '15 at 16:05
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    @JHCL Yes - it's a slightly different meaning though. "denoting a person who promotes a specified activity, situation, or feeling, especially one that is undesirable or discreditable" – Bob Tway Nov 4 '15 at 16:06
  • I'm sure I've heard of a fartmonger too... – AndyT Nov 4 '15 at 16:07
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    One also gets mongers of gossip, cheese, and whores. – Rupe Nov 4 '15 at 16:27
  • A sufficient answer to this would work for any archaism in general. Words come in and out of fashion, a lot is only speculation and can't be confirmed. e.g. I blame the industrial revolution from switch from blacksmith to ironmonger to hardware store. – Mitch Nov 4 '15 at 17:27
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I think monger referring to some activities "survived" because they date back to the period when it was used to indicate jobs in combined terms. They have not changed that much in centuries.

  • Old English mangere "merchant, trader, broker," from mangian "to traffic, trade Used in comb. form in English since at least 12c.

fishmonger (n.)

  • also fish-monger, mid-15c., from fish (n.) + monger (n.).

ironmonger (n.)

  • also iron-monger, "dealer in iron-ware," mid-14c. (mid-12c. as a surname), from iron (n.) + monger (n.). Early forms also include ismongere, irenmanger, iremonger.

Etymonline

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In the US, -monger to denote a tradesperson has disappeared entirely from use except in the singular case of fishmonger, which itself is considered ludicrously archaic and would never be used to describe an actual seller of fish, except in a humorous or self-aware way. What survives here is the more recent sense of someone who is engaged in performing or promoting a disreputable activity, notably warmonger but also fearmonger, whoremonger, pornmonger, and so forth. (My guess is that most of the current uses descend directly from warmonger rather than from the earlier sense of the suffix.)

So that probably helps explain why we don't see -monger used for anything other than traditional occupations anymore: the disreputable tone it has acquired from the derogatory use of warmonger and its related words has made it a neighborhood where no one wants to live, so to speak.

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    The negative connotation probably is magnified through psychological pairing with mongrel... The mind is a funny thing that way. – Tim Ward Nov 4 '15 at 17:22

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