Monday, October 06, 2008

Workers of the World, Unite!

For some reason, a number of old combining forms used to designate a tradesman came up on last week’s show. Three of them were -smith, -wright, and -monger.

Germanic and Scandinavian languages gave us -smith. It means a craftsman or skilled worker, and it shows up in words such as blacksmith, coppersmith, goldsmith, gunsmith, ironsmith, locksmith, silversmith, and tinsmith.

Once again, Germanic languages produced -wright, the word for worker. Thus, we have boatwright, cartwright, millwright, playwright, shipwright, and wainwright.

Latin ultimately gave us -monger, but it differs from the others. It refers not to the artisan who makes something, but to the dealer or trader who sells it. It was used to form cheesemonger, costermonger, fishmonger, and ironmonger. It also has a pejorative cast to it, showing up in derogatory terms such as scandal-monger, rumor-monger, war-monger, and flesh-monger.

English also borrowed the combining form -urgist from the Greek (chemurgist, dramaturgist, halurgist, and metallurgist), along with -fex from the Latin: artifex (any art), aurifex (gold), and carnifex (a butcher -- earlier, an executioner).

SIDEBAR: Medieval Jobs

Now available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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