Morphological inventiveness

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A very tiny thing, but I was entertained by Natalie Angier's morphological inventiveness in a piece "Life Is Short…" (NYT Science Times 8/19/08, front page) about the Furcifer labordi chameleon of Madagascar:

… the chameleon spends some two-thirds of its abbreviated existence as an egg buried in sand, with a mere 16 to 20 weeks allocated to all post-shellular affairs.

Post-shellular is a morphological hybrid, built on the native English shell, with the Latin-derived prefix post- and suffix -ul-ar.

English has many hybrid words that combine Greek and Latin elements (automobile, homosexual, television); though these are sometimes objected to by sticklers who insist on etymological purity, they can be seen simply as combinations of English elements from the learnèd portion of the lexicon, and most people find them unremarkable.

Combinations of native English bases with learnèd affixes, however, usually stand out, and often have a playful character (playful morphology is a topic we've returned to a number of times on Language Log, for instance here). Angier could have said "allocated to all affairs outside the shell" or "for life after hatching" or something similar, but "allocated to all post-shellular affairs" is more fun. And science writers are always looking for ways to lighten up their material.

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