Brian Farrington on English adjectives

Take almost any common noun that you can make into an adjective by adding -y (air, beer, cat, dough, earth, fish). The adjective always expresses a disagreeable or negative aspect of the noun’s meaning. Some exceptions of course (snowy). I wrote a little rhyme about this once:

This is a provincial province:
Brassy brass, tinny tin,
Womanly women, dressy dresses,
Hearty hearts, skinny skin;
Winey wine, watery water,
Earthy earth, stony stone,
Fruity fruit, flowery flowers,
Fleshy flesh, bony bone;
Soupy soup, sugary sugar,
Fishy fish, beery beer;
Glassy glass, leathery leather,
Smelly smells and hairy hair.

The point of all this double Dutch?
Why do we hate ourselves so much?

Brian Farrington, Aberdeen, August 1998

And here is another curiosity: you can describe a man as 'manly' and a woman as 'womanly', but only a woman would be described as 'mannish' and only a man as 'womanish'.

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Page created by John Higgins on 13 August, 1998, updated June, 2024.