Wednesday, January 9, 2008


In 1947, Orwell wrote in «The English People» that the English language gravitates towards simpler grammar and syntax. If this trend continues, he wrote, English would have more in common with isolating languages of East Asia than with Indo-European languages. I will write about one of the steps in this direction, and have some fun in the process.

The other day I was reading something somewhere, and bam! the word attackee (800) leapt out of the page (NB: where available, I give Google hit counts, excluding obvious misspellings, in parenthesized small numerals). I recalled that in a contract I had recently translated there was a payee (1,3M), but it did not strike me then as anything unusual. After all, programmers commonly use callee (61K) and sometimes pointee (36K), personifying functions and objects. But attackee somehow seems a peculiarly ugly word, its sole raison'd'etre being that «X being attacked» and «X under attack» are too long while «defender» has somewhat different meaning. attackee tells us that the -ee suffix, having originally appeared in the French loanword employee (138M), has firmly established itself as an independent lexical unit. If attackee, I thought, why not more? Let's have more fun with -ee! Me and my sister almost laughed our backsides off today thinking up all sorts of -ee words and Googling them.

Fun I

Picrelated: the huntee is not visible at all.

Violent transitive verbs seem to eeify particularly well. Some examples: programmers without respect for language sometimes use trapee; sandbaggee (3) is at least funny; kickee, rapee (the Urban Dictionary has it) and killee are too contaminated with accidental foreign matches to give accurate hit counts; murderee (6K) featured in the Independent (I'm not kidding you!); then there's fuckee (21K) with its gross and sometimes misspelt retinue; and the king of them all, pwnee (3K) — I'll be using this one! «pwnee detected» might even have a chance on the various chans.

Fun II

Besides the venerable employee, economists have payee (1,3M) and mortgagee (1M) and such gems as buyee (10K) and bankruptee (1K), while lawyers hold their own with the likes of contractee (73K), insuree (8K), harassee (4K) and slanderee (70). creditee is too confused with a declension of the French crediter to ascertain its usage; other -ee words suffer from French grammar as well. In the political sphere there is electee (10K), and jokers have invented votee. Generally speaking, just about any economic or legal term with the -er suffix can sprout an -ee sibling and, sooner or later, usually does, for the greater benefit of terminological uniformity.


On a more (or rather less) forgiving note, some terminally deaf bonehead thought up the abominable words forgivee (2K) and even lovee — they say 1913 Webster had it! I can't imagine using these words for anyone close or important to me. Their natural habitat is probably restricted to badly written self-help books and similar trash.

Fun IV

Finally, for some random fun try postee, bloggee, googlee, trollee, quittee and decidee (hello George), but don't try firee or dumpee (5K)! Remember, I warned you!


eeified transitive verbs surely add to the vibrancy of the English language, and may sometimes help with terminology; but please do remember that not all of them sound and feel equally good.

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