10 Words Made With Scissors And Glue

A Blog About Language
June 25 2014 11:24 AM

10 Words Made With Scissors And Glue


A version of this post appeared on The Week:

Think about when you were a kid discovering the wonder of glue. Hey, why not glue Barbie to this teacup? Let's glue Daddy's fancy pen to Mommy's ceramic figurine! But when you try to unglue them, you discover that glue can be strong—sometimes stronger than the things you were gluing. Now Barbie is permanently holding a teacup handle and Daddy's pen has a ceramic arm on it.


Words can be like that. They can be made of bits glued together, and then sometimes they break apart at places they weren't meant to break at. Here are 10 examples of English words that you may not have known are broken badly:

Are any of your apps broken? Your app is! You know it's short for application. But did you know that there's a glue line between and p? The word comes down from Latin applicatio, which is ap plus plicatio (based on the root plica, "fold"). Ap is actually ad ("to") changed to make a better surface for gluing. The glue stuck—better than thelication did.

Ask someone what helicopter is made from, and they'll probably say heli plus copter. But actually it's helico- ("spiral") plus pter ("wing"), same as in pterodactyl, "wing finger". Obviously nobody says it like "helico-pter"—pronunciation trumps etymology. So this is one whirlybird that flies even when broken off badly.

The glue line in this word comes after the de. You may know de as meaning "from" or signifying the reversal of an action. In this case, in the original Latin it actually meant "completely" and was tacked onto the root monstra- ("show") to make it stronger. You might wonder for a moment why we wouldn't break demonstration after the n rather than the o — until you see the demon. There's also a bit of a history in English of making short forms that end in o.

This word is just preparing to say preparation. But the glue line is after pre, which is from Latin for "before." The rest is from the Latin para- root, which means "make ready," but is clearly not fully ready in this word. When we say it, we actually say the p at the start of the next syllable, like we do in prepare, but in preparation we have a short vowel so we think of it as a short syllable, which means we think of the p as stuck to the previous syllable. And the rest breaks away.

A lot has come unstuck from this word—but it's still stuck together at the glue line. In English we shortened it from decalcomania, which came from French décalcomanie, a mania for tracing things, from de plus calquer ("trace") plus, of course, manie. We peeled most of this word off but, like a stubborn decal, some of it stayed stuck on.

Workaholic, shopaholic, whatever: we know-aholic means it's an addiction. But while addiction can make for broken people, in this case it makes a broken word, too. Alcoholic is of course from alcohol plus icalcohol, for its part, comes from Arabic al kuhl, with al meaning "the" and kuhl referring to a kind of eye makeup. Yeah, the meaning has shifted a little, too...

perm, perma-
A perm is meant to hold permanently (or at least for a long time). Permafrost is permanently frozen. But the word permanent hasn't been so lucky. Once again, the little handle on the word—in this case, the prefix per ("thoroughly")—holds together while the manent, from the Latin root mane- ("remain"), is mostly gone. With perm you're like Wile E. Coyote stuck holding the handle of something that has mostly blown up and gone. And left your hair scorched and frizzy, too.

If someone promised you comp tickets, you'd be unhappy if you just got the stub, right? But with comp, that's all you do get—and it's like one of those tickets where it's been torn not at the dotted line but a bit farther in. Comp comes from complimentary, which comes from compliment (originally referring to a courtesy), which comes from Latin com ("with"; used as an intensifier) plus plementum, from the verb plere ("fill"). Did you notice how that's spelled plem and not plim? Guess what: they come from the same source, but compliment came by way of French in the 1600s, while we got complement from Latin a bit earlier. I'm giving you that extra info for free!

So how do you like your comp info? Is it informing you of the forms in the words? You know, of course, that info is short forinformation (look, another word breaking off at the o!). You may or may not have ever stopped to notice that information is from in plus form plus ation. To inform someone is to shape their knowledge—to put it in form. Or, for the short version, in fo.

There are also some words we don't think of as shortened at all—because something got stuck to them accidentally and we've just assumed it was always there. An alternative name was originally an eke-name, but people hearing "an eke-name" came to think it was "a nekename," and that in turn came to be heard as "a nickname." So it stole the n from the an—like something sticky just set down for a moment that takes something with it when it's picked up. An ewt became a newt the same way. Incidentally, an orange, an apron, and an adder used to be a norange, a napron, and a nadder—but that's a whole nother thing.

More from The Week:

James Harbeck is a professional word taster and sentence sommelier (an editor trained in linguistics). He is the author of the blog Sesquiotica and the book Songs of Love and Grammar.


Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.


Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

Trending News Channel
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Brow Beat
Sept. 21 2014 12:43 PM Watch Rachel Dratch and Tina Fey Do a Second City Sketch in 1997
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 21 2014 8:00 AM An Astronaut’s Guided Video Tour of Earth
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.