This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Nuts and Bolts: clitics.

An affix is something stuck onto a word, right?

Well, not like this:

No, an affix is when you add extra letters to change the meaning of a word a bit.

Affixes are things like kindness, uncomfortable, gives, children.

So that's an affix...

...except when it's not.

Sometimes these stuck-on bits are clitics.

A clitic is when the stuck-on bit is part of a separate word.

English examples might be the 's in it's (which, as we all know, is short for it is) or the 't in 'twas (it was) or the n't in haven't (have not) or the l' in the French l'histoire (the story).

You may be asking why this matters.

Well, having read rather a lot about clitics, and found out that clitics are all sorts of other things, too, like, for instance, a word which can't be stressed (such as the French word te) I know I'm asking why it matters.

Ah well. It's a lovely clicky word, in any case.

Thing To Use Today: a clitic. Whatever they are, they're all over the place in all sorts of languages. The word is to do with the Greek proklinein, which means to lean forwards.


  1. Why isn't it merely an abbreviation?
    I'm critical of clitics!

    1. So am I, Jingles. The trouble seems to be that different people have seized this new word and started using it to mean rather different things. I thought I saw a connection between the meanings because you can't stress the n't in haven't - but then you can stress the not in cannot, so that idea falls over.
      In fact the more I think about it the woollier it all gets, so, like you, I'm just going to enjoy the sound of the word.

    2. But ... hmm ... I'm thinking and typing at the same time, which is never a good idea ... but ...

      It's not just an abbreviation, is it? 'It's" is a contraction (and one with a clitic), where "Mr" is an abbreviation, and one with no clitic.

      I'm learning Romanian at the moment, which I now know uses clitics all over the place, but I'm forever asking "So is that one word or two?" as I find them terribly confusing. However, the differentiation between it being one word abbreviated or two words contracted is very useful in aiding my comprehension.


      I'm not even going to review what I just wrote, as I'll probably just confuse myself. La revedere!

    3. That's very interesting and very clear, Ed. I envy you your knowledge of Romanian.
      And if only everyone limited their use of the word clitic to two-words-in-one then I, for one, would be relieved and grateful.