Attached and dangling

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By Tony Samson

REPORTERS and political analysts have foisted on us a now accepted linguistic option to be let loose on categories of potential candidates aspiring for an elective post. They have attached the suffix “-able” to every elective position imaginable. This verbal shorthand was originally limited to the highest position, with aspirants whether declared or not, being referred to as “presidentiables,” a word sure to prompt our computer spell-check to underline with its disapproving jagged red line, offering “presidential” instead. (Was this what you meant?)

The suffix is a linguistic device that adds an affix, an element of a word, to a noun to turn it into an adjective, adverb, or another noun with a completely different meaning. This takes a page from a favorite German practice of just jamming words together to come up with an idea like schadenfreude which links “joy at the misery of others” in one word.

One can say of somebody that he is a good mathematician but lousy businesswise. This suffix “wise” after “business” limits the area of incompetence to commerce, as this person so denoted may be good calculus-wise. Suffix derives from the Latin suffigere, meaning to attach on top of, much like an uninvited mate brought by an invited guest.

The penchant for suffixes has been applied to lesser positions like vice-president, senator, and sometime last year, speaker of the house with that clunky and unspeakable new word which spell-check is sure to zap — “speakerable” for the successful “congressionable” later found acceptable by his peers to be their leader, after being anointed palace-wise, or in some cases mayor-wise.

Still, the suffixed position is not used lightly. It is accorded only to those with respectable credentials and a fair chance of winning, fame-wise and party-wise. Unknowns like those first in the starting line to register as candidates for president or senator do not automatically merit the dangling appendix. Perhaps, a new term altogether will need to be used for them, something like wannabe or dreaming.

A catch-all suffixed word to cover aspirants for different positions who are leading in periodic surveys has also crept into the political vocabulary. The term “winnable,” meaning having a big chance of getting the post as evidenced by a high ranking in a reputable poll, is now routinely used. The quality of “winnability” (The nominal form of the suffixed adjective) is supposed to be the critical quality an anointer or alternately, heavy supporters, fund-wise, are looking for. More compelling, politics-wise, it seems, comes the party machinery and its ability to stay in one piece and not break up in several pieces.

The other end of the word (in this case the front) accommodates the prefix. This is an affix that is attached and dangling as well. The prefix too has served a political purpose. Mobs are classified as “pro” or “anti” a cause or a person. Coverage of oratorical excesses can become too cloying, even described as quasi-religious with its messianic overtones. (The drug war will eliminate drugs and those who use them.) The transformation of erstwhile supporters to virulent critics can be tracked to “pre” and “post” inauguration when declared reforms turn into broken promises.

There seem to be no hard and fast rules for according a suffix to certain aspirants. Can one simply declare himself a presidentiable on his own initiative? Is there a requirement of deserved status conferred by third-party individuals, preferably from media to confer the title? Should there be perhaps a suffix-issuing body that will control the use of the presidential suffix requiring certain criteria like not eliciting laughter when a certain name is linked to the highest elective position? (You mean the almost retired boxer?)

What are we to call pretenders to the suffix, whom not even neighbors would take seriously for an elective position, even in the village association? Are they unwinnable, insufferable, and laughable?

Corporate types already in their retirement need to use affixes to describe their status when asked — what’s keeping you busy? Do they still go to work daily? Their affiliation with a company is ambiguous, as they are “semi-retired” and just acting as quasi-consultants. As to their financial situation, they are coping well enough in a post-modern type of arrangement. Cash-wise, they’re supra-liquid, or above water. Next question, please.


Tony Samson is chairman and CEO, TOUCH xda.