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Making up e-words

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Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 31 Aug 2011, 04:11

Why is it so easy for English speakers to create words if one doesn’t exist.

‘Web-based learning’ or ‘e-learning’ ?

Which do you prefer?

Does it matter so long as we have a good idea of what it means and entails.  ‘e-tyres’, which I saw ten minutes ago on a van, confounds the logic of 'e-mail' or 'e-forum', it is easy to understand its meaning - ‘buy tyres here online’ (rather than ‘electronically enhanced tyres.’) But when was English ever logical?

The ‘Cambridge Encyclopaedia of the English Language’ talks about word-building or ‘compounding’. This is possible we are told because of the way the Old English vocabulary builds up through the process of affixation and compounding.

A prefix I wasn’t aware was one is ‘to’ as on the English prefix we see in ‘today, towards and together.’

One from my home town, so clearly embedded in its Danish roots is ‘gan’ as in ‘go’ which is used on Tyneside as in the Geordie for go home ‘gan yem’.

The readiness to build up words from a number of parts is a feature that has stayed with English ever since.

In English we tend to concertina words, to simply them. If it can be understood in one syllable, then this works best of all.

Most English vocabulary arises by making new words out of old ones – either by adding an affix to previously existing forms, altering their word class, or combining them to produce compounds. Cambridge Encyclopaedia of the English Language. (1995:128)

Common affixes are:


I think there has to be something poetic, something logical, simple, immediately understood and that rolls naturally off the tongue. Web-based learning, web-based training, web-based virtual asynchronous communication ‘Web/VAC’ have had their day (a decade even, 1995-2005). We will ‘google’ forever – no need here for e-search (was that ever used?) and 'to yahoo; would not do. Or e-encyclopaedia when we had Britannica Online and now have Wikipedia.

Never hyper-learning, though if we create the holy grail of game-like learning for the current generation of net-savvy, game-savvy, texting, blogging, social-networking kids then ‘hyper-tivity’ could be exactly what would describe their engagement. I watch and listen in to my son’s antics on the X-box, using Skype, online to the world, organising games, while clicking through web-pages for the latest ‘cheat’ and viewing YouTube ‘how to ...’ Training or Learning?

Terms can be made to change their word class without the addition of an affix – a process known as conversion nouns from verbs – verbs from nouns.

‘e’ isn’t a prefix, it’s a compound of ‘electronic and/or enhanced’, that has been abbreviated to ‘e-‘.

Does it matter?

If it is in common usage and it is understood then whether it follows a rule or a former pattern or not means nada. The great thing with English is that anything goes. What counts is whether people adopt a word and if it sticks. and gets into everyday usage.

‘A compound is a unit of vocabulary which consists of more than one lexical stem. The parts are functioning as a single item which has its own meaning and grammar.' (Cambridge Encyclopaedia of the English Language. (1995:120)


Cambridge Encyclopaedia of the English Language. 1995



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Good question - does anybody really wants to look at my/our Delicious links, well the same counts for blogs, and I am always amazed to see that there are really people out there who read them wink. But I see no comparison to your blog. Pretty impressive - almost 5000 visits.

I don't know if people look at my links, there is no tracking function to do so, even though I refer in my blog to them and invite peers to have a look, but I also used other peoples' links here from the H800 course and found some of them pretty helpful. Sure I could search Google as well, but I think when someone tagged it in Delicious he must have found the link somehow valuable and it might be worth looking at it. Exploiting the 'wisdom of the crowd' (Surowiecki).