Thursday, May 24, 2007

Suffering Suffixes: "-ική" and "-ic"

Suppose someone coined the words ῥητορική and feministic. Who?

Rhetorician Edward Schiappa makes an excellent case that Plato coined ῥητορική. In fact, Schiappa observes, "Plato's creative use of language is well established, as is his need to invent a proper philosophical vocabulary. In particular, it is significant that Plato was a prolific coiner of words ending with -ική denoting 'art of'" ("Did Plato Coin Rhetorike," 464).

Afterwards, Plato's neologisms were readily adopted. For example, Aristotle in the Rhetoric alone (by my count) uses some 33 different terms with the suffix -ική; and he uses these words some 519 times.

But where did Plato get the suffix -ική? How early in Greece did it appear? No -ική word can be found in the fragments of Sappho's poetry. Neither does any such term show up in Homer's Illiad. (These findings are by my very careful search).

And yet, as early perhaps as the 690s BCE, Homer (in the epic Odyssey) and Hesiod (in the poem, Work and Days) use a word with the -ική suffix. They use only one word, the same single word, suggesting to me that one of these two poets coined the term and the other borrowed it. Hesiod includes the word twice in his poem; Homer but once. The neologism is παρθενικῇ (an ostensibly newly-coined variant of the much more common παρθενικός, for "virgin" or "maiden").

Here then are the contexts in which Hesiod's and Homer's παρθενικῇ can be found. I'm including, line by line, Daryl Hine's English translation of Work and Days and Johan Heinrich Voss's translation of the Odyssey (from the Chicago Homer). The boldings and underlinings are added:

WD.60 φαιστον δ' κλευσε περικλυτν ττι τχιστα
WD.60 Then he commanded Hephaistus the world-famed craftsman as soon as

WD.61 γααν δει φρειν, ν δ' νθρπου θμεν αδν
WD.61 Possible to mix water and earth, and infuse in it human

WD.62 κα σθνος, θαντς δ θες ες πα ἐΐσκειν
WD.62 Speech, also strength, and to make it look like a goddess, and give it

WD.63 παρθενικς καλν εδος πρατον:
WD.63 Likewise a girl-like form that was pretty and lovesome.


WD.516 κα τε δι' αγα ησι ταντριχα: πεα δ' οτι,
WD.516 Also it [the North Wind] blows through the goat's fine hairs, but the fleece of a sheep

WD.517 ονεκ' πηετανα τρχες ατν, ο διησι
WD.517 Cannot because it is so close-packed that the powerful North Wind

WD.518 ς νμου Βορω: τροχαλν δ γροντα τθησιν
WD.518 Cant penetrate it, which nonetheless easily bowls over old men.

WD.519 κα δι παρθενικς παλχροος ο διησιν,
WD.519 Nor is it able to penetrate smooth-skinned virginal maidens

WD.520 τε δμων ντοσθε φλ παρ μητρι μμνει,
WD.520 As they abide in the house beside their affectionate mothers,

WD.521 οπω ργα δυα πολυχρσου φροδτης,
WD.521 Blissfully ignorant stir of the doings of gold Aphrodite.


OD.7.14 κα ττ' δυσσες ρτο πλινδ' μεν: μφ δ' θνη
OD.7.14 Just then Odysseus got up to go to the city. Athena poured

OD.7.15 πολλν ἠέρα χεε φλα φρονουσ δυσϊ,
OD.7.15 much mist about him, with dear thoughts for Odysseus,

OD.7.16 μ τις Φαικων μεγαθμων ντιβολσας
OD.7.16 lest any great-hearted Phaeacian, meeting him,

OD.7.17 κερτομοι τ' πεσσι κα ξεροιθ' τις εη.
OD.7.17 might taunt him with words and ask him who he was.

OD.7.18 λλ' τε δ ρ μελλε πλιν δσεσθαι ραννν,
OD.7.18 But when he was about to enter the fair city,

OD.7.19 νθα ο ντεβλησε θε, γλαυκπις θνη,
OD.7.19 bright-eyed goddess Athena met him

OD.7.20 παρθενικ ϊκυα νενιδι, κλπιν χοσ.
OD.7.20 in the guise of a young maiden woman holding a pitcher.

There are several very important things to note about the suffix -ική in the context of Hesiod's and Homer's poetry. First, the Greek suffix -ική seems to connote an adjectival meaning of quality. In English, adjectival suffixes of quality include "-ish," "-esque," "-al," "-y," "-ist" and "-istic" as in coinable words such as "virginish," "virginesque," "virginal," "virginy," "virginist," and "virginistic." Second, in Work and Days and in the Odyssey, the suffix -ική also allows the sense of "art of," the meaning that Schiappa says that Plato has for the word-ending. Third, then--with respect to translation in the three contexts (in the poetry lines) above--one might exchange for Daryl Hine's "girl-like" and "virginal" and for Johan Heinrich Voss's "guise of a maiden woman" the following: "with the skill of a virgin in being a virgin" or, to match Plato's shorthand, "virginistic."

Fourth, the artful/skillful feminist qualities of -ική attached to παρθενικός cannot be overlooked! In the first instance, Hesiod's poem suggests παρθενικῇ is something a) skillfully crafted; b) commonly human; c) divine in appearance; d) strongly, beautifully rhetorical (though ῥητορική was not yet coined); and in the form of a female. In the second use of παρθενικῇ, there is the metaphorical, poetic suggestion that the natural ability to resist (under a goddess's protection) the force of natural elements in the cold, North Wind IS virgin-like (especially when the maiden lives in her loving mother's home). Old men and goats are not so resilient. In the third use of παρθενικῇ (Homer's use of the coined term) above, there is the disguised manner with which Athena appears to the hero, Odysseus: neither as the word-taunting Phaeaician he expects nor as the bright-eyed goddess Homer's Greek audience knows, but as a virginistic young lady.


Feminist scholar Bonnie Blackwell makes an excellent case that British English speakers coined the word, feministic. The adjectival is formed from the double suffix, "-ist" + "-ic". A similar kind of suffix application occurred with the proper noun, Puritan. While such a noun can function just fine adjectivally (as in "a Puritan ideal"), English speakers have insisted on adding to the adjective "Puritan" not only "-ic" but also "-al"; the resulting double suffixed adjective is "puritanical." To find the etymologies of feministic, Blackwell advises (my) looking in the Oxford English Dictionary. Sure enough, there in the OED, I find the following:

femi'nistic, femini'nistic adjs.

1902 BEERBOHM Around Theatres (1924) I. 365 Ibsen's femininistic propaganda. 1908 Westm. Gaz. 11 Sept. 6/3 Some thinkers in Hungary anticipate feministic developments even in Turkey. 1912 Englishwoman Mar. 261 This society is only feministic in so far as it strives to give women better opportunities.

Blackwell adds that contemporary British feminists such as Juliett Mitchell and Germaine Greer along with American feminists including Kate Millett may occasionally use the double-suffix adjective form of feminist. The distinction between the two adjectives, feminist and feministic, is this: the former relates more often to the qualities of a person who is a feminist, the latter to less-personal and more-abstract qualities. Thus, "a feminist scholar" is a more typical use than "a feministic scholar"; and "feministic developments" might be preferred by some to "feminist developments."

Blackwell's observations about feminist vs. feministic are corroborated by those of folklorist Bruce Jackson, who muses about folklorist vs. folkloristic (and various such academic, technical terms) in his article "Folkloristics." (The article started a published controversy among folklorists apparently). Jackson theorizes the following:

The usual process is for an abstract noun or adjective (absolute, real, fatal) to be attributed to a person (absolutist, realist, fatalist) and thereby made into a noun of another order, and then for that noun to be turned into an adjective (absolutistic, realistic, fatalistic) . . . And it is the same for us: the person who studies the class of things called "folklore" is a "folklorist," and the adjective meaning "folklorist-like" is "folkloristic." "Folkloristic" as an adjective is correct when it refers to work done by folklorists; the adjective for material examined by folklorists is "folkloric." "Folkloristic research" means "the kind of research folklorists do," but not "research into folklore." (96).

I'll leave to you bloggers to figure out the connections, grammatically, between "feministic" and "folkloristic" and such. I do want to say that searches through,,, and all show that writers are publishing works in which they also now use the adverbial "feministically."

Suppose someone coined the words ῥητορική and feministic. What I have been trying to show here is how related the two terms are, not merely by the suffixes -ική and -ic but also by the inter-personal, subjective (dare I say, rhetorical and feministic?) ways we use them.

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