Tag Archives: grammar

“I’m a burglar, you want to burgle?”

Sounds funny right? Who goes burgling? A burglar does of course! In the early 19th century, England added the verb, “to burgle” into the dictionary. Why? It sounds funny, you may say, and like me might even argue that its not even a word. Sounds more like something you extract from your nose.
On what account did they do this? On account of a morphological rule called “back formation”. Words have always been a passion of mine. Think about it, its practically the medium of reality. Try this experiment! Think of a color that you paint a unicorn, a color that has never been thought up before, or even a conglomeration of colors. Now describe it to me. Unless you’re God, or infinitely creative (which is only something that God is) chances are, you had to resort to colors you already knew to describe this new color. Be excellent at describing things, you’ll be excellent at communicating just about anything. If communication were a big body, semantics would be its veins. The science of, definition, and use of words is the core vein of communication.
Returning to “back formation”, look at the title of this post. “I’m a burglar, you want to burgle?” Back formation is rule in the English language, used by Linguists (I happen to be one), to describe the end word after truncating an affix, be it an post-fix, or pre-fix, however you get your fix (I know…I know!). Speakers took a noun, “burglar”, and took off the “-ar” to change it to a verb, according to its dyad. A farmer farms, a writer writes, and evidently….a burglar burgles. But does a yachtsman, yacht? Or does a carpenter, carpent? Obviously no. That’s because its not a universal rule. It’s illegal at times.
So next time you’re searching for a word to describe the latest breakthrough, to express your hearts desire, and you come up with a word that sounds rather funny, but makes sense, chances are you applied proper English “cut-and-paste” techniques, but just with the wrong word.
Perhaps a next post will explain why the English language (or the Germanic languages in general) are so easy to work with (take off an affix here, put one there…what gives?). Stay tuned!

var _gaq = _gaq || [];
_gaq.push([‘_setAccount’, ‘UA-16133117-1’]);

(function() {
var ga = document.createElement(‘script’); ga.type = ‘text/javascript’; ga.async = true;
ga.src = (‘https:’ == document.location.protocol ? ‘https://ssl’ : ‘http://www’) + ‘.google-analytics.com/ga.js’;
var s = document.getElementsByTagName(‘script’)[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(ga, s);