Column: A splintering of language


Commentary by Curtis Honeycutt

It’s the time of year when we get outside and curse at weeds. Yes, it’s spring, which means I’ll be refusing garden gloves in favor of the feeling of dark, rich terra firma underneath my fingernails. It’s time to get in touch with nature again, and — ouch — I think I just got a splinter! Run inside and find the tweezers! Too much touching nature!

Yes, I have already gotten a splinter or two while gardening during this brief season, but have you ever come across a splinter word? No, a splinter word isn’t any word involving wood; in fact, a splinter is part of a larger word used in forming a new “splinter” word.

Take -holic, for example. An alcoholic suffers from an addiction to alcohol (the proper, modern terminology is that someone suffers from alcohol use disorder).

For the sake of the example, let’s take the splinter -holic. It doesn’t stand alone as its own word, but when someone talks about being a “shopaholic” or “pizzaholic,” we know what the other person means. The “-holic” splinter denotes a dependence on something.

Here’s another splinter: -tainment. We know that “entertainment” is something created or performed for the amusement of others. However, on its own, -tainment isn’t a word. It’s a splinter. So, when we see words like “edutainment,” “eatertainment,” and “shoppertainment,” we know that those words relate to things that are created for your amusement.

Along those lines, would “intertainment” be entertainment designed specifically for the internet?

Note that splinters are not suffixes. In the previous example, “-tainment” isn’t a suffix, although “-ment” is a suffix having to do with an action or the result of an action.

In politics, pundits love using the splinter -nomics. Derived from economics, talking heads fill airtime by taking part of a politician’s name (usually the president) and turning the leader’s economic plans into a word. It started with “Reaganomics,” referring to President Ronald Reagan’s economic pillars. Later, we got “Clintonomics.” But my favorite of the -nomics to say is “Obamanomics.”

Many splinter words begin as slang and then creep into text messages, conversations and even the seventh hour of the “Today Show.” If you’ve heard the word “mansplain,” that happens when a man explains something to a woman in a condescending way. A “mockumentary” is a documentary that is purposefully poking fun at the traditional documentary film style. We see how these splinters form new words.

What other splinters can you think of? I’d hate to grammarsplain this topic into the ground.