Friday, November 12, 2010

what's the -o in neato?

Just wondering out loud how one would analyze the morphological role of the -o in neato? It's a word I used near constantly when I was ten

Wiktionary actually has a page on this (duh, there's a wiki page for EVERYTHING!) and they list a group of words using an -o morpheme, but they don't really form a natural class: bucko, cheapo, daddy-o, kiddo, lesbo, neato, preggo, righto, sicko, wacko, whammo, wino, weirdo, yobbo.

I've never heard of some of these words (yobbo?), but even with those I do recognize, they do not seem to fall into the neato class. The Online Etymology Dictionary claims neato's earliest recorded usage was 1968, but gives no citation.

My dad used to say el cheapo and I can buy the Wiktionary claim that it's a pseudo-Spanish homage (I don't know what else to call that kind of construction), but did neato form that way? I have a hard time believing that daddy-o formed that way. Again, the Online Etymology Dictionary claims daddy-o goes back to 1949 (from "bop talk", I love that phrase).

el cheapo is an interesting construction too. Are there other examples where we take a foreign morpheme* and adopt it as a signifier in this way?


*Let's ignore the question of whether or not there really is an -o morpheme in Spanish. Somewhere along the lines American English speakers believed there was and adopted it.

9 comments:

jp 吉平 said...

The groovy /-o/ is productive for Rachel Ray: "yum-o!" ...although non-Ray fans may resist.

I've recently her a lot of groovy "-ers," which makes adjectives and nouns groovier (i.e. yummy>yummers, Shanghai>Shangers) but I've found myself resistant to that as well.

Obviously I prefer the full adjective "groovy" to any groovy affixation. But that's just me.

Damien Hall said...
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Damien Hall said...

Yobbo is an informal / extended variant of yob. OED lists both, though doesn't say either is particularly British; to my ear they are, or, at least, they're certainly not American (I don't know the Southern Hemisphere Englishes well enough to say). Apparently, yob was originally backslang for boy, but now it has the specific meaning 'lout' (but is more informal). OED lists yobbo simply as an extended version of yob; to my ear it's slightly more informal, though yob itself is also informal, more so than its near-synonym lout.

@jp: In British English, '-ers' is a suffix that definitely belongs to a former day. I'd say it was the fashionable suffix to put on abbreviations between the Wars, or certainly not long after them. The example that springs to mind immediately is the cricket commentator Brian Johnston (1913-94), universally known as Johnners, then and still. Others are (perhaps self-consciously archaising) Cuppers, the name of cup competitions in various sports at Oxford, and possibly 'rugger' for rugby, which I think is now only used at private schools and Oxbridge. If '-ers' is common in Shanghai now, might that be because early-twentieth-century expats established the culture of the English language as it's spoken there?

monkeytypist said...

As a native speaker of Australian English, I can confirm that yobbo is Australian. And -o more generally is a diminuitive in Australian use: arvo (afternoon), metho (methylated spirits), garbo (garbage man) Salvos (Salvation Army), smoko (smoking break), povvo (poverty/poor), kero (kerosene), lezzo (lesbian), nasho (national serviceman) etc. etc.

Compared to other languages, English doesn't use very many diminuitives at all, so it's interesting to see that Australian English uses them more than most other varieties.

Where did it come from? No idea, but it's highly unlikely to be Spanish or originally some other specific language for that matter (Australians by and large are a pretty monolingual bunch, perhaps even more so than Americans). It's most likely an internal, indigenous development.

Joe said...

My grandfather regularly says "el foldo" in reference to a business going under. I've always interpreted it as a strange faux Spanish, but I'm really at a loss to explain its origin. I suppose it and "el cheapo" might reflect a negative opinion of Spanish (or Latin American) culture, but "el ____-o" certainly doesn't seem to be a very productive process in English.

Chris said...

These are excellent comments. I'm on travel right now and a little pressed for time, but I'll try to synthesize some of this in a day or so. Thanks!

Daniel said...

As far as "el cheapo," you should check out Jane Hill's work on "mock Spanish."

Scot said...

"Again, the Online Etymology Dictionary claims daddy-o goes back to 1949 (from 'bop talk', I love that phrase)."

The expression "daddy-o" is at least two years older than that. The song "Daddy-O (I’m Gonna Teach You Some Blues"), sung by Dinah Shore, was released in 1947. And Virginia Mayo (actually dubbed by Jeri Sullivan) sang it in A Song Is Born starring Danny Kaye (1948).

As for "neat-o", kids were using that word when I was in grammar school in the late 1950s. Maybe the Online Etymology Dictionary simply made a typo and meant to say "1958" rather than "1968."

Anonymous said...

I have read that in the 1880s, and possibly earlier, in England, showman Sam Torr had a popular act called "On The Back Of Daddy-O", in which he sang a song by the same name while dancing about in a costume that made it look like he was riding on Daddy-o's back. Although Mr. Torr had performed in other parts of England, in 1883 he opened his own music hall, the Gaiety Palace Of Varieties, in Leicester, which is also known to history as possibly the first establishment to exhibit Joseph Merrick, The Elephant Man (bless his gentle heart).