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Apr 26, 2010
This week's theme
Back-formations

This week's words
cathect
sass
callithump
accrete
cerebrate

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A.Word.A.Day
with Anu Garg

Which came first, editor or edit? This may sound like a chicken-and-egg question, but it's not. It's easy to assume that the word editor was formed from the verb edit. In reality, the word editor came first (from Latin edere: to give out). Then we formed the verb edit from it. Words such as babysit, vaccinate, donate, all were derived from their noun forms, not vice versa.

This re-interpretation of a word to coin a new word is called back-formation: devising a word from what appears to be a derivative word.

This re-analysis of words can be in error or in humor, done on purpose. About 110 years ago British troops were released after a long siege in a town called Mafeking in South Africa. It sparked wild celebrations in Britain. The town name Mafeking was jocularly treated as a gerund and a verb form was coined: to maffick (to celebrate).

The word we now know as cherry was originally cherise (in French it's still called cerise today), but as that seemed to be plural, people erroneously spoke of a cherry when referring to a single fruit.

In the beginning back-formations are usually frowned upon, for example, the verb enthuse (a back-formation from enthusiasm) is not yet well accepted. Scores of other back-formations are now full-fledged members of the English language: greed (from greedy), injure (from injury), beg (from beggar).

The verb to back-form itself is a back-formation. We'll look at five more this week.

Discuss this week's words and much more on our bulletin board: Wordsmith Talk

cathect

PRONUNCIATION:
(kuh-THEKT)

MEANING:
verb tr.: To invest mental or emotional energy in an idea, object, or person.

ETYMOLOGY:
Back-formation from Greek kathexis (the investment of emotional energy in something). Ultimately from the Indo-European root segh- (to hold) that is also the source of words such as hectic, scheme, and scholar.

USAGE:
"Mortimer divorced Jane Goodall's mother, Vanne, in 1950, consigning Jane to the fate of so many children who cathect with the animal kingdom to compensate for missing parents."
Judith Lewis; Observing the Observer: Jane Goodall, The Woman Who Redefined Man; Los Angeles Times; Nov 19, 2006.

See more usage examples of cathect in Vocabulary.com's dictionary.

A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:
When others asked the truth of me, I was convinced it was not the truth they wanted, but an illusion they could bear to live with. -Anais Nin, writer (1903-1977)

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