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Today's Dilbert (12/01/10):

Here, the -itute of prostitute is serving as a blend component, but could it end up becoming what Arnold Zwicky has helpfully dubbed a "libfix" (a "liberated" word part that yields new word-forming elements)? I doubt that -itute could be a productive libfix, because without the proper context it could be easily misconstrued as a libfix for some other word with the same ending, like institute or substitute. In the case of the collegiate blend sorostitute (sorority + prostitute), all but the initial p of prostitute is represented in the blended word, making the lexical source much easier to recognize.

There are also ad-hoc blends that use the first part of prostitute, such as prostidude (as we discussed in a post last March) and prostitot. In these cases, prosti- is a big enough chunk for the blend component to be properly identified, meaning that it has the potential to achieve libfix status.

Given the popularity of Dilbert, I could see frienditute gaining a modest following, but don't count on other X-itutes to follow suit.

(Hat tip, Nancy Friedman.)


  1. Seonachan said,

    December 1, 2010 @ 2:36 pm

    I think you are right to doubt its productivity. My first reaction was that frienditute was a play on substitute – as in "substitute friend".

  2. ~flow said,

    December 1, 2010 @ 2:47 pm

    yeah, friend(subst)itute was my initial guess, too. but it seems to make more sense with 'prost' instead of 'subst'. by the way couldn't you say 'friendstitute' as well?

    [BZ: Friendstitute still doesn't avoid ambiguous interference from institute or substitute. But yeah, I like that marginally better than frienditute.]

  3. fs said,

    December 1, 2010 @ 2:53 pm

    One more on the pile of "thought it was a take on 'substitute'".

  4. Anon321 said,

    December 1, 2010 @ 3:03 pm

    When I was in college, the term "lacrosstitute" (or perhaps "lacrosse-titute") was commonly used to refer to women who slept with multiple members of the men's lacrosse team. But, as with sorostitute, the word lacrosse makes the lexical source much easier to identify than, say, a similar blend of basketball and prostitute.

    In the few extant examples, there appears to be no settled relationship between the first term and the prostitute-based suffix (or libfix). A sorostitute is evidently a sorority member who acts like a prostitute, a frienditute is evidently someone who acts like a friend for money, and a lacrosstitute is someone who acts like a prostitute with respect to certain people.

  5. Xmun said,

    December 1, 2010 @ 3:08 pm

    "I'll pay you . . ." in the first cell (or whatever you call those things) suggests "prostitute".

  6. Mighty Red Pen said,

    December 1, 2010 @ 3:17 pm

    When I saw the word alone and out of the context of the strip, I thought it was a play on destitute, as in someone who is destitute of (Facebook) friends.

  7. ~flow said,

    December 1, 2010 @ 3:22 pm

    @Anon321: so a guy who had slept with different people during his time in the lacrosse team would than be called a 'lacrosstidude', no? what about girls from the women's team who had slept with different partners from the men's team? 'lacrosstiduditutes'?

  8. Furious Sleeper said,

    December 1, 2010 @ 3:38 pm

    I also thought it meant "destitute of friends" when I first saw the title.

  9. Russell said,

    December 1, 2010 @ 4:00 pm

    Adding on to Xmun's observation, the fact that Dilbert thinks "it's better if we don't name it" also suggested to me a blend with "prostitute."

    Also, though fully spelled-out word order is (maybe?) not in general a constraint on blends, the predominant order of prostitute-compounds and substitute-compounds is different. "Friend-prostitute" vs "substitute friend." Based on that I'd hesitate to try to form a substitute-based blend with "-(st)itute."

  10. Ben C said,

    December 1, 2010 @ 4:01 pm

    Sorostitute is interesting–are you sure it's not someone who sucks up to billionaire Hungarian investors? ;)

  11. Chris Burke said,

    December 1, 2010 @ 4:15 pm

    According to the following article, a blues singer in 1954 used the "-itute" ending to create "puppetute," which was "a term I coined to mean a secret paper-doll fantasy figure [thus puppet], who would be my everything and bear my children." The word was later misheard by Steve Miller, who managed to parlay the word into the famous line, "I speak of the pompatus of love," from "The Joker" (1973). If the interview with the blues singer, Vernon Green, is real, then he is providing a very early example of "-itute"'s use as a libfix (unless I'm misinterpreting the definition of the word).

    In this case "puppetute" is probably aided by the fact that it begins with the same P sound, and has the same number of syllables, as the original "prostitute." "Dollitute" just doesn't sound as good.

    [(myl) Some additional information can be found in "Dismortality and puppetutes", 1/17/2005]

  12. Robert Coren said,

    December 1, 2010 @ 5:08 pm

    @Xmun: They're called "panels".

  13. Colin M said,

    December 1, 2010 @ 5:31 pm

    I had a friend in high school who coined the term "procrastitute" as a mix of procrastinator and prostitute, which turns up a respectable 1.5k google hits. In this case, I don't think the "-itute" part does much to change the meaning.

  14. Ray Girvan said,

    December 1, 2010 @ 6:24 pm

    I particularly liked "transvestitute", which Clare (Mrs G) and I have been using as a joke malapropism for some years – until we found it had got into the language.

  15. Rubrick said,

    December 1, 2010 @ 6:53 pm

    "Frostitute" instead of "Frienditute" reads nicely, but unfortunately it sounds more like a snowman in fishnets.

  16. Esn said,

    December 1, 2010 @ 7:18 pm

    How about "friendostitute"?

  17. axl said,

    December 1, 2010 @ 7:27 pm

    my naive intuition, which is mostly corroborated by posts above, is that -stitute is the far (not marginally) better option over -itute for the second half of the portmanteau, for friend- and any other viable first element. Can a pro give an analysis of this intuition?

    (and whether pro- or sub- is the discarded part of the first half is irrelevant to this, but the it seems to me obvious from the context that it is the former).

  18. Chandra said,

    December 1, 2010 @ 7:52 pm

    I read the comic before looking at the blog post's title, and had no problem gleaning "prostitute" as the second blended element (rather than "substitute" or anything else). I wonder if those who thought of "substitute" first also read the word "frienditute" in the title (and thus out of context) first?

  19. Barbara Phillips Long said,

    December 1, 2010 @ 9:09 pm

    I don't like "frienditute" because I think it requires a second look to figure out, and the staccato ending doesn't sound so great to me.

    Given that we have "friend" and "unfriend," I think Dilbert is asking to become her "buyfriend."

  20. Acilius said,

    December 1, 2010 @ 9:43 pm

    First prize to Barbara Phillips Long for "buyfriend."

  21. J Lee said,

    December 1, 2010 @ 10:26 pm

    More interesting is the formulation "it's better if we don't name it," which seems to be so common cross-linguistically in spite of its abstractness (i.e. 'it' meaning reality itself).

  22. Craig said,

    December 1, 2010 @ 11:19 pm

    I suspect that Adams could not have gotten away with inverting the formula to "prostifriend" simply because the source of the affix would have been too recognizable, and several newspapers would surely have chosen not to carry the comic. Using the "-itute" portion allows for plausible deniability in its ambiguity as noted by other commenters above.

  23. matthew chapman said,

    December 2, 2010 @ 12:24 am

    I think the connection is fairly clear. A friend and a prostitute both carry the idea of a one on one personal relationship albeit with very different dynamics…. unless one is a "frienditute." Then the line gets a little fuzzy.

  24. Erik Zyman Carrasco said,

    December 2, 2010 @ 12:54 am

    Regarding lacrosstitute, there's also laxtitute (lax = lacrosse).

  25. Kylopod said,

    December 2, 2010 @ 5:15 am


    Making the blend more oblique also makes the joke funnier. It's a little like those cliche joke poems where you set up a rhyme that anticipates a vulgarity then pause right before the vulgarity would occur before sticking in a completely innocuous word. Letting the audience figure out what's being implied usually heightens the humor.

    In real life, of course, a remark like this could get a man subjected to a sexual harassment suit. But in the world of the comic strip, the fact that Dilbert gives himself the plausible deniability makes it seem like he's being subtle, increasing the sense that he's a hapless loser rather than a crude lecher.

  26. Rodger C said,

    December 2, 2010 @ 8:29 am

    After Charles Williams gave a talk on the theme of chastity in Comus, which was reportedly received by his Oxford students very positively and as an absolutely new idea, some of his friends started calling him "a common chastitute." this would, I think, have been ca. 1940.

  27. Charles Doyle said,

    December 2, 2010 @ 9:05 am

    There's also the interesting double-blend designating the colorfully patterned rubber boots worn by the fashionable young women on rainy days: "sorostiboots."

  28. Jerry Friedman said,

    December 2, 2010 @ 9:19 am

    @~flow: Times have changed. When I was in college thirty years ago, the phrase "girls from the women's team" would have been pretty much impossible.

  29. Beau Peregoy said,

    December 2, 2010 @ 9:54 am

    props master or props mistress=propstitute

    ^Used in a Wisconsin high school

  30. John said,

    December 2, 2010 @ 9:54 am

    @Xmun, Russell, Chandra: I don't think anyone is saying it's ambiguous *once you've read the comic*. The context makes it abundantly clear. They're talking about what they thought when they saw the word "frienditute" out of context.

  31. Megs said,

    December 2, 2010 @ 10:51 am


    It also might be cultural. I read the money thing and barely glanced at the title and still came out with thinking substitute friend instead of a real one. I was quite surprised when I read they were blending with prostitute. But I don't come from a background that thinks about sex-stuff unless it's brought up very clearly. I DO think about sincerity and buying people off and social networking (and how real a lot of those "friends" aren't). I think a lot of linguistics depends not just on subtly written context, but also on the reader's demographic and background.

  32. Frans said,

    December 3, 2010 @ 6:09 am

    @Barbara Phillips Long

    Given that we have "friend" and "unfriend," I think Dilbert is asking to become her "buyfriend."

    Isn't it more of a "rentfriend"?

  33. Mark said,

    December 3, 2010 @ 2:36 pm

    I've never heard "prostidude" before. I've see and used "brostitute". That has the visual pun of flipping the "p" upside-done to turn it into a "b".

  34. ajay said,

    December 6, 2010 @ 10:19 am

    "biostitute" or "ecostitute" – an ecologist hired by, for example, a property developer to give a clean bill of health to a proposed development.

  35. ben wolfson said,

    December 6, 2010 @ 4:40 pm

    Surely a sorostitute is a Soros-founded institute, or a term for someone who espouses certain kinds of political or economic views for pay ("I can't believe he sorostituted himself in the pages of the New York Review of Books like that").

    Sorority + prostitute ought by right (meaning, by my lights) be "sororitute".

  36. roberto said,

    December 7, 2010 @ 2:49 pm

    nah, it's clear.

    too much analysis paralysis here.

  37. Janice Byer said,

    June 12, 2011 @ 12:39 am

    Ben's right that "prostitute" is suggested not by the libfix of "frienditute', but by the first two frames setting it up to suggest it, by way of a punchline.

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