Suppose I have a proper noun: "Thing."

Should I use "unThingish", "un-Thingish" or "unthingish?"

closed as unclear what you're asking by RegDwigнt Oct 5 '16 at 11:36

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  • I like "un-Thingish" because it shows the upper case, and it doesn't look like camel case (used in computer programming, e.g.UpperCase). – aparente001 Oct 5 '16 at 3:52
  • Etymology is not a determiner of whether something gets capitalized, hyphenated, both, or neither. It depends entirely on the word in question. Unless you tell us just what exactly your Thing is, this question is quite unanswerable. – RegDwigнt Oct 5 '16 at 11:37

The most neutral and scholarly-sounding construction would be:

Thinglike - resembling Thing.
unThinglike - not resembling Thing.

The latter is an awkward construction, since it is two steps removed from the proper noun, and the proper noun is itself one step removed from a noun, which is the normal target for such a modification.

So, one could say, of a speech given by Margaret Thatcher, that it was Thatcherlike. Or, you could say of a gaffe of hers, that it was unThatcherlike. But it would be more readily acceptable to, for example, a newspaper editor, for you to write "uncharacteristic of Mrs Thatcher." The "un-" word is simply too clunky to flow well in writing. It would likely pass acceptably in everyday speech, however, so the choice depends on the usage.

There are two other types of noun adaptations to create adjectives that could apply. None of these are better or worse, in the case of a proper noun; it's a matter of style and appeal. These constructions are more casual-sounding, less scholarly, and more common in spoken form rather than written:

Thingish - e.g. bookish, foolish
Thingy - e.g. weighty, boxy

The constructions unThingish and unThingy are awkward the same way that unThinglike is awkward, but those would be the correct spellings.

  • Yeah uh no. English doEs not capitaLize thinGs like thAt. It simPly does nOt. – RegDwigнt Oct 5 '16 at 11:32
  • @RegDwigHt Your name is a proper noun. And the penultimate character in that name is a capital "H". And if someone were to make an adjective of your name, they would need to include both the initial capital letter (since yours has one, unlike e.e.cummings' name), as well as that capital "H". And there are certainly precedents for adjectives made from proper nouns with a "-like" suffix, e.g.: bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2016-08-23/…, where Obama-like is capitalized. The term "un-American" is already in use. Point stands. – jaxter Oct 6 '16 at 16:21

The New Oxford American Dictionary has entries for un-American and un-English, so you could take a hint from there.

Of course, this assumes the new word is not a proper noun itself - e.g. The House Un-American Activities Committee.

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