I'm fascinated by the suffix -ship and while it theoretically has no connection to the noun "ship", all definitions provided by Oxford Dictionaries seem to in fact not be terms that would be out of place on the deck.

There are a great many words which end in -ship and I wonder if this suffix might not in fact truly be a vessel with some cargo of mysterious treasure held within. In my personal life I often create new words and have become fond of the idea of creating new types of -ships. I do not prefer relationships and friendships over extraordinaryships.

I'm shocked at how difficult it is to construct new -ship words and I would like to learn about the factors that influence whether a word can be suffixed with -ship.

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    Welcome! Interesting question. Could you reframe with a particular answerable question? This site isn't oriented toward opinion-based discussion. (I just don't want you to get close voted?)
    – Unrelated
    Jan 19, 2017 at 20:27
  • as @Unrelated mentioned, Stack Exchange sites are not designed for discussion-oriented questions. I edited the end of your post to try to make it fit better into a Q&A format. If you aren't satisfied with my edit, you can also edit the post further.
    – herisson
    Jan 19, 2017 at 20:39
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    Extraordinaryships? I don't think so. Sorry for the apparent oneupmanship.
    – Lambie
    Jan 19, 2017 at 22:25
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    WS Gilbert included a pun on these meanings in The First Lord's Song from HMS Pinafore: Of legal knowledge I acquired such a grip/ That they took me into the partnership / And that junior partnership I ween/ Was the only ship that I ever had seen/ But that kind of ship so suited me/ That now I am the Ruler of the Queen's Navy
    – BoldBen
    Jan 20, 2017 at 9:05

1 Answer 1


The etymology of this suffix is given at length by the OED -

Etymology: In Old English *-sciepe, -skiepe (rare), -scipe, -scype, Anglian -scip, (occas. -sciop) strong masculine = Old Frisian -skipi , -skip, -schip (West Frisian -skip , -schip, North Frisian -⁠skep, -skap), Old Saxon -scepi , -scipi , Middle Low German, Middle Dutch -sc(h)ip, -sc(h)êpe, -⁠sc(h)eep, -sc(h)êp, West Flemish -schip, -schepe < Germanic *skapi-z, < skap- to create, ordain, appoint (see shape v.). The ĭ of the stem-syllable of Old English scipe and the corresponding continental forms is apparently due to secondary influence of the umlaut, the change being probably favoured by the lack of stress. The related *skapo-z (masculine), *skapō (feminine), and *skapti-z shaft n.1, meaning ‘creation, creature, constitution, condition’, were used in Germanic as the second element of compounds and as such assumed the function and meaning of a suffix equivalent to *skapi-z; these forms are represented by Old Saxon -skap (Middle Dutch, Dutch -schap), Old High German -scaf (feminine), later -scaft (Middle High German, German -schaft), Old Norse -skapr (Danish -skab, Swedish -skap); the alleged Old English landsceap is an error due to misreading. The abnormal forms of the suffix in Scots hussyskap, -⁠skep, -skip (see housewifeship n.) may have a Low German or Dutch origin.

The important part of that is perhaps the meanings of creation, creature, constitution, condition.

Five separate nuanced senses are given but they are all clearly related, meaning the state or condition of being. Examples of each vary from 1.adjectival, DRUNKENSHIP, HARDSHIP, WORSHIP 2. added to nouns FRIENDSHIP, LORDSHIP 3. Designating person of rank REEVESHIP 4. State of life, occupation or behaviour CLERKSHIP, COURTSHIP, 5. Added to nouns forming compounds TOWNSHIP (this is the only modern example given, and I don't fully understand the distinction from 2.)

I am not sure if this answers the question, but it does provide some etymology, and the manner in which the suffix is used. Further words I feel sure could be created if they fell within one of those categories, and there are plenty more in everyday use e.g. ACQUAINTENCESHIP. But how about DRIVERSHIP e.g He handed over to another member of the party the drivership of the vehicle?

  • Some of the examples seem, to me, to be in the wrong categories. I would consider LORDSHIP to be an example of a designation of rank and REEVESHIP to be an example of occupation rather than rank. Also WORSHIP, although it is used adjectivally in the case of "his worship the mayor" is more fundamentally a behaviour as in "an act of worship". In fact the most common use of worship is as a verb as in "Worship The Lord!" and "He worshipped the ground she walked on".
    – BoldBen
    Jan 20, 2017 at 8:58
  • @BoldBen I tend to agree. But my examples were taken from the OED - to which if you are a UK Council-Tax payer, and member of your local library, you will almost certainly have free on-line access
    – WS2
    Jan 20, 2017 at 11:13
  • Good answer. Of course the second part of my question regarding the appendage of suffixes to any word is sort of ridiculous but I was ultimately looking for this kind of explanation. I like that as humans we have the right and responsibility to invent new words like grok, as terrible as that may be. I came up with a good one last night: accompanymentship. It's nonsensical and longwinded enough to attempt to define the goofy way I'd like to interact with young ladies as an alternative to the words relationship, or friendship. Thank you.
    – Jesse Ivy
    Jan 20, 2017 at 21:51
  • @WS2 I appreciated the source. I just thought the examples were poor for such an august publication. Glad you feel much the same.
    – BoldBen
    Jan 21, 2017 at 15:36

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