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From Jenny Chu, on November 9:

I am a long-time follower of Language Log but usually comment on the Chinese and Vietnamese related topics by Prof. Mair. Yet I thought you might be amused by the attached conversation. It shows some nice examples of the playfulness and creativity of the human language faculty, as well as some nicely ironic / self-conscious prescriptivist poppycock.

The conversation starts like this:

Click here to read the whole (long) thing.

Here's the relevant part of the OED's discussion of the -ery suffix, unchanged since the 1891 edition, which explains why no verbing of asshat is involved [emphasis added]:

Of the English words ending in -ery many are adoptions from French, as battery, bravery, cutlery, nunnery, treachery. Many others are formed on ns. in -er, and are properly examples of the suffix -y ; but in individual instances it is often uncertain whether a word was originally formed on an agent-noun in -er or directly on the verb. The derivatives of ns. in -er and of verbs for the most part denote the place where an employment is carried on, as bakery, brewery, fishery, pottery; occasionally they denote classes of goods, as confectionery, ironmongery, pottery; after the analogy of such words, the suffix is added to ns. with a general collective sense (= ‘-ware’, ‘-stuff’, or the like) as in crockery, machinery, scenery. The words formed by adding -ery to ns. sometimes (though rarely) signify a state or condition, as slavery; oftener the force of the suffix is ‘that which is characteristic of, all that is connected with’, in most cases with contemptuous implication, as in knavery, monkery, popery; another frequent use is to denote the place where certain animals are kept or certain plants cultivated, as piggery, rookery, swannery, vinery. During the 19th century this suffix in pl. form was rather extensively used in the coinage of jocular nonce-words; the Fisheries Exhibition held at South Kensington in 1883 having been colloquially known as ‘the Fisheries’, the name ‘Healtheries’ was commonly given to the succeeding Health Exhibition, and the Colonial and Indian Exhibition was called ‘the Colinderies’; an exhibition of bicycles and tricycles was called ‘the Wheeleries’. These formations are often imitated colloquially. Cf. ‘The Dukeries’ (after the analogy of ‘The Potteries’) as a name for the tract of country occupied by the great ducal estates in Notts. and North Derbyshire.


  1. rosie said,

    November 13, 2016 @ 7:39 am

    As I see it, one question that needs answering is whether the last syllable of "asshat" has secondary stress or none. In "planet" and "budget" there is none, so "planetary", "budgetary" keep the t single. In "nitwit" there is secondary stress, so "nitwittery" doubles the t. Similarly humbuggery, ratbaggery, windbaggery, flimflammery and claptrappery, so asshattery needs the double t.

  2. Ellen Kozisek said,

    November 13, 2016 @ 7:55 am

    I think in this case, the one t or two is also about whether or not the original poster was playfully combining asshat and hate in the word asshaterty, in which case it should definitely be one t. I would say yes on the secondary stress, though. So two t's if "hat" was not meant to t be turned into "hate", one if it was.

  3. Guy said,

    November 13, 2016 @ 11:30 am

    I would have said that "asshattery" (always spelled with two t's) is already an established English word (more so than "assholery", which I don't think I hear as often, though I'm sure it's older.) but this discussion is making me think I might be in the minority in that impression. They're both in Wiktionary, for what it's worth.

    Like Ellen, I originally understood the conversation to be about "asshatery" as a portmanteau of "asshattery" and "hate", though only one person in the conversation seems to understand that. The other seems to have simply misspelt "asshattery" and misunderstood the jest of the other participant.

  4. Alon Lischinsky said,

    November 13, 2016 @ 12:30 pm

    @Guy: Google Ngrams, however, has hits for assholery but not asshat(t)ery.

    GloWbe finds instances of all three, but assholery remains the most common term (80 hits, vs 55 for asshattery and a paltry 4 for asshatery).

  5. chris said,

    November 13, 2016 @ 2:37 pm

    I do agree that "asshattery" ought to have two T's. "Hatter" is already a word, although "asshatter" is not (AFAIK). I wonder if that has some effect?

    I don't recall ever seeing "hattery" but if I did I would probably immediately classify it with "brewery" etc. and understand what it meant — but the relationship between hats and (a) hattery is quite different from the relationship between asshats and asshattery (which is rather more like the relationship between fools and foolery).

  6. Gregory Kusnick said,

    November 13, 2016 @ 5:41 pm

    I can imagine a legitimate secondary usage of "asshattery" as referring to a place or institution where the practice of asshattery is rampant, though I can't say I've actually observed such usage in the wild.

  7. Rb3 said,

    November 13, 2016 @ 6:17 pm

    I use this word consistently. At least once a month in fb conversations.

  8. Keith said,

    November 14, 2016 @ 2:49 am

    I'm going to dig way back into the past and try to explain a rule of English spelling as I learned it in infant school in the UK; I must have been about seven years old at the time (around 1974 / 1975).

    We were taught that a vowel has a plain, basic sound and also has a name. The letter A has the sound of /æ/ but its name is /eɪ/, the letter E has the sound /ɛ/ but the name /iː/. The sound changes depending on whether the syllable is stressed or not, other sounds around the vowel and most of all by the speaker's accent.

    But the biggest change of all is when the vowel is pronounced not as its basic sound but as its name, according to the following rule.

    Where V stands for a vowel, and C for a consonant, and — stands for any other letters, we have words of the pattern —VC such as hat, plan, tun. But when another vowel appears after the consonant to form the pattern —VCV , the fist vowel is pronounced according to its name; by adding an E, hat becomes hate, plan becomes plane and tun becomes tune.

    This can be continued with the pattern —VCV—: hating, planing, tuning.

    To keep the basic sound, we double the following consonant: hatting, planning, tunning.

    So if we have a word "asshat", and want to keep the sound /æ/ in words derived from it, the final T has to be doubled to give, for instance, "asshattery", "asshatting" and "asshatted".

    I don't know if this rule is still taught in schools. I'm interested to learn the opinions of professional linguists and teachers whether the rule is considered helpful. Other ideas of the period, such as the Initial Teaching Alphabet, have been abandoned.

  9. DWalker07 said,

    November 14, 2016 @ 12:29 pm

    Was "oftener" common in 1891?

    "popery" is odd because I want to pronounce it as if it started with "pop", not "pope".

  10. Joe said,

    November 14, 2016 @ 5:24 pm

    @DWalker07: And, if you start with "pope", it ends up being homonymous with "potpourri". Odd, indeed.

  11. J.W. Brewer said,

    November 14, 2016 @ 7:32 pm

    As to Keith's question, I think one or both of my daughters (now in 10th grade and 7th grade) were explicitly taught rules quite similar to what he recalls when they were in second or third grade. I found that interesting because I couldn't remember having been taught similar rules (or, really, ANY rules about regularity in English orthography) when I had been their age. But I'm not sure if that's because it was the early 1970's and thus some sort of nihilistic pedagogical free-for-all or because I was an early reader and always a good speller and thus may have completely forgotten explicit rules that were part of the curriculum in my school because they were not personally relevant to me.

  12. Yuval said,

    November 14, 2016 @ 10:12 pm

    Seen often, with two t's. And cf. douchebaggery.

  13. Chris C. said,

    November 14, 2016 @ 10:33 pm

    Considering that the replies to a comment I once made on a John Oliver YouTube video contained extensive criticism of my use of "spooge" as a slang term for semen, as opposed to the "splooge" which some favored, an extensive internet discussion of formations based on "asshat" is far from surprising.

  14. Bob Ladd said,

    November 15, 2016 @ 9:13 am

    A phonological question, related to DWalker07's comment: why are none of the -ery forms discussed here subject to trisyllabic laxing (or whatever you want to call the rule that relates the stressed vowels in insane / insanity, etc.)? When I was in graduate school in 1970s, a couple of us with more exposure to phonological theory than is good for anyone got wondering about midwifery pronounced with a short I, concluded it was purely pretentious, and immediately adopted an equally ridiculous pronunciation of assholery (which did exist then) with the O pronounced like doll rather than dole. But DWalker07's comment suggests that trisyllabic laxing is not completely out of the question for -ery forms after all.

  15. Rodger C said,

    November 15, 2016 @ 12:42 pm

    I still prefer to pronounce "midwifery" with two syllables.

  16. Chandra said,

    November 15, 2016 @ 2:01 pm

    @Keith – I still teach that rule in my Fundamental English upgrading class.

  17. Chandra said,

    November 15, 2016 @ 2:03 pm

    @Rodger C – Surely you mean three?

  18. Rodger C said,

    November 15, 2016 @ 3:09 pm

    @Chandra: No, "midfrey," like "Winfrey." I heard it thirty or so years ago in a film interview with one of the English nurses that staffed the Frontier Nursing Service, lo, now about a century ago. It seemed like expert advice.

  19. Chas Belov said,

    November 16, 2016 @ 1:48 am

    @Joe: Hmmm, while popery and potpourri, to me, use the same phonemes, I mentally hear the stress as being different, so I question whether this is a true homonym.

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