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17 April 2004 @ 13:03
-Sterring the cranberry bog  

entangledbank discusses the phenomenon of productive affixes created by reanalysis of existing words: e.g., the fact that you can stick -cest or -blog or -vertise or -gasm onto the end of just about any word you like to produce a new word analogous to incest, weblog, advertise, or orgasm, respectively.

This discussion is inspired by Semantic Compositions's characterization of -ster as a cranberry morpheme, which I think is confused on two points.

First, there's the use of the term cranberry morpheme itself. As both entangledbank and Semantickler have pointed out, this term is standardly used by linguists to describe an unproductive bound morpheme whose meaning is impossible to pin down because it occurs in only one word. The term comes, of course, from the morpheme cran in the word cranberry, which used to be an excellent example of this until the Ocean Spray people got to work on it. (We know that berry is a morpheme, so cran must be one, too, but what does cran mean? 'Round and red'? 'Grown in bogs'? 'Containing pectin'?) Now that you can buy cranapple and crangrape and cranraspberry and crangodknowswhatelse juice (in which cran is used quite productively to mean 'cranberry'), the phrase cranberry morpheme is a little misleading. I hereby propose that we start calling these things huckleberry morphemes instead, at least until the juice industry starts squeezing out huckleguava or something and compels us to revise our terminology again.

In calling -ster a "cranberry morpheme," Semantic Compositions was clearly under the sway of Ocean Spray; what S.C. had in mind was the emergence of a whole slew of services, such as Friendster, Grokster, and even Frumster, whose names are clearly derivative of Napster. These new -sters apparently reminded S.C. of Ocean Spray's plethora of crans; hence S.C.'s understandable mischaracterization of -ster as a cranberry morpheme.

I think, though, that this particular case is not necessarily one of morphological reanalysis. English did, after all, already have a suffix -ster, which appears in such words as:

  • spinster
  • teamster
  • gangster
  • mobster
  • punster
  • prankster
  • youngster
  • rhymester
  • gamester
  • huckster

...and in surnames that used to be names of occupations, such as Baxter ('baker') and Webster ('weaver'). This was formerly a feminine agentive suffix (a female counterpart to -er), but it is now neither consistently agentive (as witness youngster) nor specifically feminine (as witness all of the above except spinster; note also the addition of the feminine suffix -ess on top of -ster in seamstress).

Now, I have no idea how the creators of Napster came up with the name for their service, which has, as far as I can tell, about as much to do with napping as a bulldozer. But it seems to me that Napster has not so much supplied the English lexicon with a new suffix by reanalysis as given a new, specialized sense (roughly, 'online person-to-person service') to an old one.

If you want reanalysis, order the lobster. It comes from Latin locusta (which means exactly what it looks like), but got assimilated to nouns ending in -ster when it was borrowed into Old English.

Nuværende humør: nerdypedantic
-entangledbank on 17. April, 2004 16:18 (UTC)
Actually I've always thought 'gooseberry morpheme' would be a good name. Some of the berries have cranberry prefixes we can assume are eponyms -- tay, logan, boysen --, others are just cranlike -- huckle, whortle --, but some are quite misleading in having orthographic kin -- rasp, straw, goose. What on earth have these to do with what they seem to resemble? And it's only orthographic. The pronunciations [ra:z] and [guz] are meaningless. And in the case of gooseberry, not only do you have the nice association of loneliness and being left out, but the peculiar feature that not only isn't [guz] an actual word, it's not even a phonotactically possible word in most accents.
Q. Pheevrq_pheevr on 17. April, 2004 17:37 (UTC)

My goodness—I've been mentally mispronouncing gooseberry all these years. (I had always imagined it was pronounced as it's spelled, and as I've never actually had the opportunity to eat one, and rarely had the opportunity to talk about them, I was never disabused of this notion until now.)

Anyway, attractive though it is, I'm not sure gooseberry morpheme is the best term. For one thing, the OED suggests that it is "prob." derived from goose after all, and states rather defensively that:

The grounds on which plants and fruits have received names associating them with animals are so commonly inexplicable, that the want of appropriateness in the meaning affords no sufficient ground for assuming that the word is an etymologizing corruption [...].

And even if it isn't really related to goose, people are likely to assume that it is, and then we'll be back to where we were with cranberry.

I'm surprised at your statement that [guz] is phonotactically impossible in most accents. I'm quite sure that it's a possible word in mine—for example, if I pretend that goo is a count noun and pluralize it, I get [guz]. Or I can quite happily attach a spurious onset to ooze and get it that way.

quantumkitty on 17. April, 2004 19:30 (UTC)
Well, I've eaten gooseberries, as well as heard people talk about them, and everyone I know pronounces the first syllable of "gooseberry" as [gus]. And the first syllable of "raspberry" sounds like "razz," which is a word but has nothing to do with raspberries.
Q. Pheevrq_pheevr on 18. April, 2004 11:19 (UTC)

The only razz I know is a clipping of raspberry, in the sense of 'Bronx cheer.'

-entangledbank on 18. April, 2004 00:29 (UTC)
Ah, by [guz] I mean [gUz], not [gu:z]. I'd assumed the pronunciation was standard so my notation would be obvious. So [gUz] rhymes only with buzz, does, fuzz in Northern accents, and not with anything in others.

Etymology doesn't matter: cranberry is from crane, but that fact's not synchronically present for speakers.
Q. Pheevrq_pheevr on 18. April, 2004 11:17 (UTC)

Interesting. I had wondered whether you meant [gUz], since that's a phonotactically much less likely sequence than [gu:z], but then I consulted the nearest dictionary at hand (the Nelson Canadian Dictionary) which listed [gu:s] and [gu:z], in that order. (I read the OED only online, and generally in Lynx, so I can't really tell what its verdict is; it looks like "gu.zberi" to me, which isn't terribly helpful.)

And I agree that etymology per se doesn't matter for the synchronic status of the relation between goose and gooseberry—I certainly don't associate [ræz]berries with rasps—but for those of us who call it a [gu:s]berry, the possible connection with geese is much more salient.

-entangledbank on 18. April, 2004 11:53 (UTC)
Interesting. Chambers has (their symbols for) ['gUzb@ri] or ['gUs-]. (Old) Shorter OED has (its symbols for) ['gu:zb@ri].

Well, I don't know that phonetic identity with another morpheme helps that much. I have ['strO:bri] containing [strO:] but I can't see what connexion there is between them. (Despite having read it several times in dictionaries, which I'll refrain from doing again: it hasn't stuck.)
Q. Pheevrq_pheevr on 20. April, 2004 11:16 (UTC)

For me, I think it's a combination of (assumed) phonetic identity, orthographic identity, and low frequency that leads me to associate the goose in gooseberry with the goose in goose. I agree with your intuitions about strawberry, which is for me a much more frequent fruit; in fact, I probably see and/or think about strawberries considerably more often than straw, and I don't draw any association between the two. But I see geese with some regularity, and gooseberries hardly ever, and I think this has something to do with my greater inclination to understand gooseberry in terms of goose.

(Anonym) on 17. April, 2004 22:02 (UTC)
origins of napster
Napster is derived, we are told, from the middle-school nickname of Sean Fanning, the guy who started it. So, although I don't know if that's actually derived from the verb "nap", it seems to definitely be related to the agentive suffix -ster. Fanning used it as a nonsense name for hi file-sharing service, and poof! a new meaning for the suffix appears.

email me at http://isomerica.net
Q. Pheevrq_pheevr on 18. April, 2004 11:22 (UTC)
Re: origins of napster

Thanks for the information! I wonder if Fanning suffers from (or enjoys) narcolepsy.

Tishiewahooweena on 19. April, 2004 08:18 (UTC)
Re: origins of napster
I'm quite sure his nickname derived from his narcoleptic tendencies along with that SNL sketch ("Heeeeyyyyyyy, it's the Rick-ster! The Rick-ster is pour-ing his co-ffee. The Rick-ster likes his mor-ning co-ffee!").
Q. Pheevrq_pheevr on 20. April, 2004 11:05 (UTC)
Re: origins of napster

Oh, yeah! I had forgotten about that particular bit of gratuitous -ster affixation floating around in the culture. More evidence that this is a continuation of an existing prefix rather than the formation of a new one, I think.

(Anonym) on 28. April, 2004 09:19 (UTC)
Hiya; I just wanted to drop by and offer everyone a Crantini (http://www.webtender.com/db/drink/3205)
Q. Pheevrq_pheevr on 28. April, 2004 11:47 (UTC)
Re: Fruzzle
Thanks, Fruz!
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