Semantics: New Words

5th May 2022

agent nouns

The suffix –ist is used to create an agent noun — a noun that denotes someone or something that does something. Two suffixes more commonly used to create agent nouns are –er and –or, as in worker, bookseller, beginner, visitor, creator, and accelerator.


The development of a more favorable meaning for a word. Take, for example, quell. In current usage, banks move to “quell inflation.” Governments issue proclamations to “quell fears”.

In Old English poetry, on the other hand, when a warrior “quelled” his opponent, he killed him.

Semantic amelioration is not as common as semantic deterioration, in which a formerly inoffensive word acquires a negative meaning.


As a grammatical term, it means, “used without the article.”

From ‘Daily Writing Tips’

When commenting on the opening sentence of Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code, Geoffrey Pullum called it an “anarthrous occupational nominal premodifier.”

Renowned curator Jacques Saunière staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum’s Grand Gallery.

Pullum said that the construction is “reasonable” in a newspaper, but has the “wrong feel and style for a novel.” Had Brown written, “The renowned curator Jacques Sauniére,” the sentence would have escaped criticism.


Commas with appositives

An appositive is a noun or noun element that follows another noun and serves to identify it further. The nouns are said to be “in apposition.”

An appositive phrase usually follows the word it explains or identifies, but it may also precede it.

The term derives from a Latin compound meaning, “to set beside or near.” Nouns in apposition are set beside one another. When one of the nouns simply restates the other one, commas are needed to set it off.

Andrew Johnson, the seventeenth US president, ranks among the three worst presidents of the United States.

The phrase “the seventeenth US president” is just another way of saying “Andrew Johnson.” It provides additional information, but leaving it out would not change the meaning of the sentence. The additional information is non-essential, so it is set off with commas.

Take another example:

My English teacher says that Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby is overrated.

Here, The Great Gatsby is in apposition to novel. Because Fitzgerald wrote more than one novel, the specific title is essential information. It cannot be omitted without obscuring the meaning of the sentence. The teacher does not necessarily think that the author’s other novels are overrated. No commas are needed when the additional information is essential.

In the following sentence the nouns in apposition restate the nouns that precede them. Because the information they provide is non-essential, commas are needed to set them off:

As a team, we send our thoughts and deepest sympathies to Peter’s wife, Jill, and his children, Mark and Hilary.

False Titles

A common type of apposition found principally in journalistic writing is the “false title.” This is a descriptive phrase placed before a noun, but used as if it were a title.

Novelist John le Carré has set himself up as the psycho-analyst of the cold war.—Time

Cellist Joshua Gordon, in the slow movement, showed off his rich, lyrical tone. Buffalo News

This construction is known as “a Time-style adjective” because it’s thought that Time magazine either began the practice or popularized it.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The diaeresis diacritic indicates that two adjoining letters that would normally form a digraph and be pronounced as one sound, are instead to be read as separate vowels in two syllables. For example, in the spelling ‘coöperate’, the diaeresis reminds the reader that the word has four syllables co-op-er-ate, not three, ‘*coop-er-ate’. In British English this usage has been considered obsolete for many years, and in US English, although it persisted for longer, it is now considered archaic as well. However, we still see it in words such as naïve.

endonym and exonym

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

An endonym (from Greekéndon, ‘inner’ + ónoma, ‘name’; also known as autonym) is a common, internal name for a geographical place, group of people, individual person, language or dialect, meaning that it is used inside that particular place, group, or linguistic community in question; it is their self-designated name for themselves, their homeland, or their language.

For instance, Deutschland is the endonym for the country that is also known by the exonym Germany in English and Allemagne in France

An exonym (from Greek: éxō, ‘outer’ + ónoma, ‘name’; also known as xenonym) is a common, external name for a geographical place, group of people, individual person, language or dialect, meaning that it is used only outside that particular place, group, or linguistic community.[1] Exonyms exist not only for historico-geographical reasons, but also in consideration of difficulties when pronouncing foreign words.[1]

The Premier League, also known exonymously as the English Premier League or the EPL is the top level of the English football league system.

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