Wednesday, December 17, 2008


From, by a man named Jack Murnighan. You might know him from Currently he in traveling in Cambodia.

“The Netherlands are reputedly under sea level, and apparently huge chunks of Bangladesh wash away after a bad monsoon (killing dozens of times as many people as 9/11, by the way), but I’ve never seen a place as swampy or fen-ny or boggy or rice-paddy-y or however it should properly be described.”

What I like about fen-ny is the way Mr Murnighan, whom I have never met in person, but who (full disclosure), is editing something I have written, side-steps the (apparently) Early Modern English innovation that is the denominal diminutive (and, I think, feminine) suffix -y. (The Cambridge History of the English Language, 1476–1776 could be a tad more clear about this.) Anyway, appending -ny instead of -y enacts the double consonant rule; but by inserting a hyphen, the word blooms. (Punctuation can do more than bore fidgeting teenagers; Tom Wolfe has a fine time with colons in I Am Charlotte Simmons, doesn’t he?).

The book fen-ny brings to mind above all is William Gass’s gorgeous essay On Being Blue. Gass has a nice romp with the English language in that one.

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