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I recently noticed that the category of English autoantonyms now includes a derivational suffix.

One of the standard characters in the cartoon show Phineas and Ferb is the mad scientist Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz, head of Doofenshmirtz Evil Incorporated. His many inventions include the Slave-inator (created to get people to come to his birthday party), the Uglyinator (invented to make himself seem handsome in comparison to everyone else), the Bread-inator (designed to get rid of an annoying statue by turning it into bread that will be eaten by birds), the SlowMotion-inator (which puts the victim into slow motion), the Invis-inator (turns people or things invisible), and so on. As these examples suggest, when Dr. Doofenshmirtz invents an X-inator, you can usually rely on it to be a device to make people or things X, or to turn people or things into X's.

A few examples depart slightly from this pattern, such as the Hot-Dog-Vendor-Revenge-inator, designed to get revenge on hot dog vendors, or the Mountain-Out-Of-A-Molehill-inator, which apparently just makes things bigger. And then there's the Change-inator-inator, which alters details of past episodes of the show. But even these remain true to the generalization that an X-inator moves things in an X-ward direction.

Meanwhile, out in the real world, you can consult the good folks at moleinator.com ("we have what you need to regain control of your lawn and garden"), or patronize Pestinators of San Francisco ("Please do not call regarding dogs or cats"). And $59.95 will get you your very own Buginator ("lab tested and scientifically proven to wipe out flying pests like mosquitoes, flies, moths and fleas"). There's even a pest-control reality show called "Verminator". These are clearly constructed by analogy to exterminator, and in this domain, an X-inator is a device or service for getting rid of X's.

Context is enough to ensure that people don't consult moleinator.com for advice about how to turn things into moles, or even to attract moles to their lawns.

But consider the deGERM-inator, a "Portable Ultraviolet Sanitizer" that will "Sanitize telephones and cell phones, toilet seats and flush handles, computer mouse devices and keyboards, plastic toys, door knobs and many other commonly contaminated surfaces". By analogy to moleinator and buginator, this should be the GERM-inator. Maybe its inventors or marketers worried that germinate is already a fairly common word, even if it's one that has nothing to do with the ordinary current meaning of germ. Or maybe they felt that people might be reluctant to pay $79.95 for a device that (if Dr. Doofenshmirtz invented it) would turn things into germs.


  1. Stephen Nicholson said,

    November 11, 2010 @ 2:36 am

    Leave it to comedy to reveal interesting linguistic insights.

  2. Twitter Trackbacks for Language Log » X-inator [upenn.edu] on Topsy.com said,

    November 11, 2010 @ 2:51 am

    […] Language Log » X-inator languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2767 – view page – cached I recently noticed that the category of English autoantonyms now includes a derivational suffix. Tweets about this link […]

  3. keri said,

    November 11, 2010 @ 3:02 am

    I'm kind of tickled that Phineas & Ferb is getting mentioned here – it's a fun little show, and it deserves positive attention. Though I always thought that part of the intended humor of Dr D's -inators is that they aren't the same as the exterminator examples. I hadn't considered that the suffix is used that way elsewhere. Maybe "Terminator"? "Governator"? but the one is a play on the other, which is a play on exterminator, isn't it?

    [(myl) It's not the first time — see here.]

  4. Ian Preston said,

    November 11, 2010 @ 3:52 am

    Some people think Germ-o-nator is a good name for a sanitising product. (This is from last night's British TV)

  5. scazon said,

    November 11, 2010 @ 5:11 am

    The first such one I am aware of is the incomparable Trogdor the Burninator. Interestingly, in the world of Homestar Runner, the suffix "-inator" is somewhat derivationally productive, as in the verb "burninate" to describe Trogdor's treatment of the peasants in their thatched-roof cottages. What is more, I have heard this word used on multiple occasions outside the Homestar Runner-verse, once by someone who'd never even heard of Homestar Runner. Ain't culture wonderful?

  6. GeorgeW said,

    November 11, 2010 @ 7:26 am

    Does anyone know the origin of /-inator/? The suffix /-ator/ is from Latin through French. But /-inator/?

    Was from 'terminator' analyzed as term-inate (>term-inat-or)instead of termin-ate?

  7. Ben Hemmens said,

    November 11, 2010 @ 7:34 am

    As a resident of Arnold Schwarzenegger's home town (sort of; actually he lived in a village a few miles outside town) Graz, I have to get in with the claim that the widespread addition of -inator to all kinds of things got a boost, if not its start, with the Terminator. Ah-nuld later became the Governator, but in the meantime the skier Hermann Maier had been christened the Herminator.

    At least, if that wasn't the beginning of it in English, it was what started this suffix as a crossover phenomenon in German, where it is used in more or less the same way.

    A quick search in Youtube reveals multiple Herminators. Somebody could go research which of them came first …

    -(i)nator could also be compared to -(a)tron, as in orgasmatron, couldn't it?

  8. Thomas Thurman said,

    November 11, 2010 @ 7:42 am

    Well, thanks to Phineas and Ferb I shall now begin calling Word's automated grammar checker the Strunkinator.

  9. Ben Hemmens said,

    November 11, 2010 @ 8:26 am

    Oh no, the Strunkinator is definitely an LL contributor currently based in Scotland. The spellchecker in Word is more of a Strunkifier or Strunkinizer.

    Governator comes very, very close to being a strict autoantonym (for many Californians).

    But I don't think even germinator or degerminator are autoantonyms. A mop (or cleaning fluid) isn't the opposite of dirt.

    I think -inator just means something that does vaguely entertaining destruction on something else. The occasional instance of autoantonymification is a side effect.

  10. GeorgeW said,

    November 11, 2010 @ 8:40 am

    Watch it or the language loginator will delete your comment!

  11. Kapitano said,

    November 11, 2010 @ 9:00 am

    What are we to make of the Mailinator – a website which lets you set up temporary email accounts, which it destroys after a few hours?

    On the one hand, it makes email accounts. On the other hand, its stated purpose is to enable you to sign up for things where you have to give an email address…without actually giving your email address. So it's a kind of anti-email-harvester-inator.

  12. Colin John said,

    November 11, 2010 @ 9:44 am

    As cricket fans will tell you, the Indian bowler Harbajan Singh is known as 'The Turbanator'. You will probably have gathered from his name that he is a Sikh.

  13. Troy S. said,

    November 11, 2010 @ 10:43 am

    I second the notion that this suffix derives from the Terminator films. For example, take a look at wedinator.com (pictures of weddings gone wrong), where you'll see graphics that resemble the cyborg's heads-up display along with the message "Trashing your special day is our prime directive."

  14. KCinDC said,

    November 11, 2010 @ 11:08 am

    Scazon, Trogdor the Burninator was spread beyond Homestar Runner fans by being mentioned in the series finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I believe that was my first exposure to the name. I only just now discovered he was a dragon; I had the impression, probably from the sound of the name, that he was a barbarian.

  15. John Lawler said,

    November 11, 2010 @ 11:57 am

    Kelvinator [always cap.] n. one who Kelvs, kills Kelvs, or turns things into Kelvs.

  16. John Cowan said,

    November 11, 2010 @ 12:32 pm

    I indeed picked up and used for a while the phrase "burninating the peasants" without knowing its origin. There's something viscerally appealing about using -inate, -inator somehow. I connect it with the hacker cultural tradition of overgeneralization, which applies standard suffixes to roots that usually do not take them, giving such results as obviosity, disgustitude, hackification, and boxen, Unices as the plural of box (in the sense 'generic computer'), Unix.

  17. richard said,

    November 11, 2010 @ 7:04 pm

    @John, just to give credit where credit is due, before there were boxen there were vaxen (now sadly extinct due to their high bogosity ranking after the arrival of crayven).

  18. Peter G. Howland said,

    November 11, 2010 @ 7:24 pm

    @Ben Hemmens – I'll bet your computing machine thingy just about blew up at "autoantonymification", huh? That'll teach that blasted spellcheckerator a thing or two! Way to go, Ben…

  19. John said,

    November 11, 2010 @ 9:30 pm

    You mean a 'degerminator' isn't a device to remove the germ from grains? Could have fooled me!

  20. John Cowan said,

    November 12, 2010 @ 2:44 am

    Richard: Wuddaya mean, extinct? I know a guy in Toronto what has two Microvaxen in his cellar, on the Internet even (he wrote the drivers himself, as they run a version of Unix not normally found in the wild — nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more). They contribute, as I understand, materially to lowering his heating bill.

  21. Chris said,

    November 12, 2010 @ 11:37 am

    Dude! John Stewart referenced this EXACT thing at the beginning of his interview with Rachel Maddow last night (13 seconds in). Freaky.


  22. Mel Nicholson said,

    November 12, 2010 @ 11:44 am

    The Trogdor-inspired offshoot of the suffix X-inator to mean "unstoppably awesome doer of X" has a lot of uses. Aside from the original "burninator" and the "degerminator" you cited, there is the what-if-inator (which generates what-if stories), the loginator (which performs logging in computer programs), the remixinator (which remixes song), and so on.

    I suspect P&F was more influenced by this usage rather than the name-blends like "Herminator" and "Governator" where X is names something terminator-like.

  23. Mel Nicholson said,

    November 12, 2010 @ 11:54 am

    John snarks "You mean a 'degerminator' isn't a device to remove the germ from grains? Could have fooled me!"

    Mel seems to miss the snark and replies that the combination of the de- prefix implies that the valued object is what remains, and that the removed item is somehow undesirable, as in the term "decaffeinator" which refers to a device the preserves coffee or tea (or whatever) while removing the unwanted caffeine.

    Tea leaves sold to soda companies, by contrast, are run through caffeine extractors. "Extractor" in this context shows that the valued item is what is being removed, not what it is removed from.

  24. Jen said,

    November 12, 2010 @ 12:48 pm

    When I started grad school in 2004, I was introduced to a homeless guy known as The Incenseinator. I would stand by a very busy bus stop and pressure students passing by to buy incense.

  25. MattG said,

    November 12, 2010 @ 2:16 pm

    "The Verminator" was a job that Kelly Bundy (Christina Applegate) had in Married With Children. Essentially she was a spokesmodel for a pest-control company.

  26. Rimero de enlaces said,

    November 14, 2010 @ 12:33 pm

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  27. Ben Hemmens said,

    November 14, 2010 @ 6:09 pm


    I'm not sure whether it shouldn't have been "autoantonymifaction".

    And to write, as often as I can, I use Strunkless technology such as WriteRoom, which has the advantage of making my computer look like the computers of my schooldays.

  28. Scotty Schup said,

    November 17, 2010 @ 7:06 pm

    @GeorgeW who asked "Does anyone know the origin of /-inator/? The suffix /-ator/ is from Latin through French. But /-inator/? Was from 'terminator' analyzed as term-inate (>term-inat-or)instead of termin-ate?"

    That's exactly what happened.

    English words that end in /-ate/ are Latinate words, derived from the perfect passive participle ending of 1st conjugation verbs /-atus/. The /-or/ ending is one of Latin's agency morphemes.

    The English /-inator/ morpheme is, as GeorgeW pointed out, a result of reanalysis of /termin-ator/ as /term-inator/. The /-in-/ is not on its own a morpheme, it is part of the previous morpheme. So in the case of terminator (termin-us [end] > termin-are [to end] >termin-atus [having been ended] > termin-ator [one who ends]), the -in- is part of the root termin-. Similar words include ruminate and germinate where /rumin-/ and /germin-/ are Latin roots as well.

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