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As a non-native speaking programmer, I need a general pattern to name input and output variables of operations where the variables are of the same type and I noticed that employ, employer employee is a great pattern. Can I use this for any verb?

Are the following correct?

  • merge, merger, mergee (the function is called merge, the one everything is merged into is called merger and the mergees are the ones that go into the merge)
  • split, splitter, splitee (the function is "split", the original item is the "splitter" and the "splitees" are the results)
  • connect, connector, connectee
  • transfer, transferer, transferee
  • approve, approver, approvee
  • support, supporter, supportee
  • manage, manager, managee

And so on.

If no, how do I decide when I can do this and when I can't?

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    Can I use this for any verb?. If your only concern is giving 'English-like' names to program entities, then knock yourself out and go right ahead. In the previous sentence the expression knock yourself out is an idiom meaning, approximately, fill your boots or please yourself, it's not meant literally to suggest self-concussion. Jan 15 '20 at 11:12
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    The problem is that you’re trying to squeeze the often irregular, unruly and illogical English Language into the confines of a programmer’s logical, regular and precise world. Sorry, but it ain’t gonna work my friend! Jan 15 '20 at 11:25
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    No. Heterogeneity in Word-formation Patterns: A Corpus-based Analysis ... By Susanne Muehleisen is a 250-page study examining the patterns involved, the (numerous) exceptions, and new usages appearing over recent times. I obviously have to close-vote as 'too broad in scope'; a (or >1) dictionary is required. Jan 15 '20 at 12:03
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    ... Possibly the OED itself. Though 'noddee', to my surprise and delight, is given in Lexico. 'Festschriftee' is even rarer. 'Moneylendee' looks useful. 'Sneeree' contrived. (All these in Muehleisen.) Jan 15 '20 at 12:14
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    I'm a programmer myself. I spend a lot of time thinking of good names for variables, using the most natural English I can think of.
    – CJ Dennis
    Jan 20 '20 at 4:38
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In short, no, you cannot use this for all verbs.

The addition of -er/-or to indicate the person or item which performs the verb can be applied to most verbs. As @EdwinAshworth points out in the comments, there are some for which it sounds - at best - questionable ("rainer", "snower", for example), but it's generally a productive suffix which can be widely applied to verbs to indicate somebody/something which performs the verb. Edwin also found an interesting and relevant publication: Combinatorial Restrictions of Agentive Suffixes in English and Serbian, by Vladimir Ž. Jovanović which discusses this among other things. It points out that -er/-or forms can sound strange if there's already an established noun (you wouldn't use spyer/spier in place of spy, for example). But generally speaking, if you need a noun for somebody who verbs and none appears to be established, verb-er or verb-or would probably be accepted by most people as a reasonable coinage.

But the addition of -ee to indicate the person/item the verb is done to isn't nearly so generalisable. Employee certainly isn't the only example (trainee and interviewee, for example, are widely used), but it can't be applied to most verbs.

When I say it can't be applied to most verbs, I mean that with most verbs it sounds unusual and would probably be considered an error by most people, especially (but not exclusively) in formal contexts. I would still expect most people (at least most native speakers of English) to understand your intention (at least roughly). In particular, none of the -ee examples you gave sound natural to me (perhaps transferee, which I would understand as being the recipient of a transfer).

I'd also note that for the two examples where you've provided definitions, I wouldn't interpret them in the same way you have:

merge, merger, mergee (the function is called merge, the one everything is merged into is called merger and the mergees are the ones that go into the merge)
split, splitter, splitee (the function is "split", the original item is the "splitter" and the "splitees" are the results)

for me, I would interpret the merger as being the person/machine/etc that performs the merging. It could perhaps in some contexts indicate the things which go into the merge, but I certainly wouldn't understand it as the result of the merge.

Likewise, the splitter could be the item which splits. But I'd be more likely to understand it as the person/object which causes something to split. I would only understand splittee as being the thing which somebody/something caused to split, and certainly not as the results of something being split.

In general, I'd sum up the relationship between verb, verber, and verbee as: a verbee gets verbed by the verber.

It's possible others may interpret them the same way you did, or another way altogether. But as I said above, neither of those examples sound at all natural to me with -ee so I would avoid using them regardless of what exactly you intend them to mean.

As for how you can tell which verbs you can do this with, unfortunately I don't believe there's any way other than checking a good dictionary to see if a particular form is recognised (or simply knowing from past experience, of course). -ee in particular is not a widely productive suffix, and I wouldn't recommend coining new words with it in serious contexts. It's not too unusual to hear it used innovatively for humorous effect, though.

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  • Yes, to me a “splitter” refers to a tool for splitting logs of wood, and yet the proposal here is akin to calling the log of wood the “splitter”. Jan 15 '20 at 11:20
  • "Merger" is often used to mean a company or other organisation which is the result of merging two or more predecessors.
    – Rosie F
    Jan 15 '20 at 12:10
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    @RosieF I've always understood the merger in that context as being the act of merging companies, not the company that results from it. i.e. ExxonMobil is the result of the merger of Exxon and Mobil. Merriam-Webster and Lexico both seem to define it in this way too.
    – Chris H
    Jan 15 '20 at 12:21
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    At ResearchGate is to be found an article by Vladimir Ž. Jovanović of the University of Niš on [combinatorial restrictions of agentive suffixes in English {and Serbian!}]( researchgate.net/publication/…. Agent nouns such as 'pianoer', 'celloer', 'violiner', 'guitarer', 'celester, 'organer' and 'oboer' (not derived from verbs, of course) are blocked. I suspect 'rainer', 'telescoper', 'snower' etc are dubious. Jan 15 '20 at 12:33
  • @EdwinAshworth that's a great find, I'll edit something on that into the answer a little later (or feel free to do so yourself)
    – Chris H
    Jan 15 '20 at 12:41
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This is a productive set of morphological constructions, so you can use it for new verbs and most English speakers will be able to understand it. However, it is very often the case that the pattern is not used for existing words. For example we say student not teachee. If you do use -ee it is likely to be interpreted as a humorous use of language, which may not be your intention. I would in general not recommend using -ee in new words in serious contexts. But if you are facing a lacuna -ee may be a good derivational choice to fill the vocabulary gap, even in a serious context.

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  • Thanks, that gives me a good heuristic on when to use it! I mostly need it for technical jargon so I think those are mostly new words where I can apply the pattern. Jan 15 '20 at 14:35

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