Date: Thu, 19 Mar 1998 15:09:06 +0000
From: Victoria Neufeldt vneufeldt[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]M-W.COM
Subject: Re: arbitrariness of derivational morphology

On Wed, 18 Mar 1998 17:17:26 EST Ron Butters wrote:

"Why can't CONTEMPT be made into a verb in English?" asked my Turkish
"And why can't DESPISE be made into a noun?" English is so very flexible when
it comes to interchanging categories--with and without derivational
morphology--one wonders why we can't say, "*David feels the sailor's
despise/despisation for him" or "*Giovanni contempts/contemptates Jacques."

Any answers--other than the usual language-is-arbitrary response?

As far as "contempt" is concerned, it is surely just accidental that
it has not yet become "verbed." There seems to be nothing about this
particular word that would impede a functional shift, and perhaps a
shift has already taken place somewhere, sometime, as "spontaneous
generation" that has simply not been recorded. But I would be very
surprised to hear of "despise" being used as a noun, even in rapid,
unthinking speech. The second syllable of this word looks and sounds
like an "-ise" suffix, and because the "-ize/-ise" suffix is so
productive and so strongly verbal, the native speaker looking for a
noun would automatically add some kind of suffix, if only an "-ing"
ending. (I wonder if there are any nouns ending in the suffix
"-ize"; i.e. the suffix, as distinct from the simple spelling, as in

So I'd say there are no constraints against "contempt" becoming a
verb, but there is one against "despise" becoming a noun.

That "to contempt" does not yet exist, in spite of lack of
grammatical constraints may just be because of the existence of a
very common verb that fills the bill, namely, "despise." We are all
rather linguistically lazy, aren't we? (aside from any feelings for
or against a particular usage) and will normally go with the flow unless
we are spurred on to do something new.

Victoria Neufeldt