Thursday, September 17, 2009

Newsweek Magazine's Weird Word Choice

The September 21st issue of Newsweek magazine includes an article titled "Born to be Big". Following is the opening sentence of the article:

"It's easy enough to find culprits in the nation's epidemic of obesity, starting with tubs of buttered popcorn at the multiplex and McDonald's 1,220-calorie deluxe breakfasts, and moving on to the couch potato-fication of America."

I am wondering if any particular word in this sentence bothers readers as much as it bothers me.

Do you see which word I am referring to?

Not yet.

Well.....

The word that really gets to me is "couch potato-fication".






A morphological analysis of the formation of the word "couch potato-fication" suggests that the suffix "-ify" (in the form of "-fy") was added to the compound noun "couch potato" resulting in the verb "couch potato-fy" meaning, "to make or cause one to be a couch potato." Then the suffix "-ation" was added to the verb "couch potato-fy" resulting in the noun "couch potato-fication" meaning, "the state or quality of making or causing one to be a couch potato."

While "-fy" is an accepted variant of the suffix "-ify", according to encyclopedia.com the suffix normally takes the form "-ify". Additionally, the combination of the suffixes "-ify" and "-ation" form what is considered a separate suffix "-ification". The suffix "-ification" is highly productive as can be seen by the following unexhausted list of words.

amplification
beatification
certification
clarification
classification
codification
deification
demystification
disqualification
diversification
edification
falsification
fortification
glorification
gratification
identification
justification
mystification
notification
ossification
personification
purification
qualification
quantification
ramification
ratification
rectification
reunification
sanctification
simplification
solidification
specification
stratification
unification
verification

Had the Newsweek article used the suffix in its known form, I probably would not have even thought twice about the neologism. However, without the initial /I/ or short-i sound found in the suffix, Newsweek's use stuck out like a phonetically sore thumb.

Granted the "-ification" suffix usually follows a consonant, it doesn't always, as exhibited by the word "deification". So based upon the linguistic template of "deification" and the known phonological pattern of the suffix, I think that "couch potato-ification" would have been a better choice for this neologism.

By the way, another thought that entered my mind when first reading this word was, "did they mean to say "couch potato-fixation", as in our nation has a fixation on the ability to be couch potatoes? As a matter of fact, when googling the suffix "-fication" without its initial letter "i" as Newsweek used it, Google responded with, "Did you mean: -fixation".

###

The article is also available on the Newsweek website and, interestingly, does not include the hyphen between potato and fication. Whether the word is written as "couch potato-fication" or "couch potatofication" it still sounds odd to me.


4 comments:

Adnoxious said...

What would you call this kind of mistake? Word botch-ification? :)

Great blog. Interested in a link exchange?

adnoxious.blogspot.com
Taking aim at lousy advertising

Wordacious said...

Good one Adnoxious.

I will happily ad you to my link list.

Lorelei said...

Sorry, the article had me at "McDonalds deluxe breakfast"... :)

Erin Davis said...

That word bothers the heck out of me, too, but the whole sentence smacks of a writer who is trying way, way too hard!

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