-ish

“What colour are you painting the living room?”

“Ecru.”

“What?”

“You know, ecru. Kind of like magnolia, or eggshell.”

“Huh?”

“Whiteish.”

“Ah, ok! Why didn’t you just say that then?”

Is there a more useful suffix than -ish?

Sometimes we really don’t want to express ourselves in too extreme a way. If we don’t want to say something is fantastic or amazing, we can say it’s nice. Or, if it’s better than that, it’s great…ish.

“What time will you be there?”

“Six..ish.”

How many drinks have you had!?”

“Six..ish.”

It’s such a wonderfully simple way to add a little ambiguity or flexibility into our speech. It’s certainly a great way to avoid being punctual: What? I said sixish!!

Of course it’s also used in many common adjectives:

Don’t be so childish!

He’s quite a bookish young man!

I think he’s Danish. Or Irish. Or Finnish. It’s hard to tell with that accent.

As with a lot of English (parts of) words, -ish can be traced back to Proto-Germanic languages, generally functioning as an adjective ending, often with the general meaning of related to or part of. No-one’s really sure how it came into the English language to mean approximately, but I think it’s a case of the idea of related to drifting slightly:

What, I said I’d meet you at sixish! As in generally related to the concept of six o’clock.

Well, that was interesting. Ish.

 

2 thoughts on “-ish

  1. I remember a line from a Walter Macken book where he described as character as (I’m paraphrasing, can’t find the exact quote): “A smallish woman with brownish hair; there was a lot of -ish about her.” It was such a perfect description!

    Liked by 1 person

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