Thursday, December 27, 2012


A Wanawizzi World

Dear Mike,

'Wan-' is a curmudgeon's prefix par excellence, just as 'wane' must be one of the guild's pet verbs. Hardly surprising then in this wanawizzi world that it's all but gone by the board. 'Wannabe' is an open invitation to Heideggerian etymologizing.

Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. WAN-, prefix:
a prefix expressing privation or negation (approximately equivalent to UN- prefix1 or MIS- prefix1), repr. Old English wan-, wǫn-, corresponding to Old Frisian. wan-, won-, Old Saxon wan- (only in wanskefti misfortune = Old English wansceaft), Middle Low German, Middle Dutch wan- (modern Dutch in many new formations, esp. in the sense 'wrong', 'mis-', as in wanbestuur misgovernment, wanluid discordant sound), Old High German wan-, wana (only in wanwâfan unarmed, wanaheil unhealthy, infirm, wanawizzi lacking wit, insane), Middle High German wan- (only in wanwitze inherited from Old High German), modern German wahn- (in wahnwitz, wahnsinn insanity, commonly apprehended as compounds of wahn n., delusion; also in some dialect words, chiefly adopted from Low German); ON., Swedish, Danish van- (in many old formations, to which modern Swedish and Danish have added many more, chiefly adopted from Low German). The prefix is in origin identical with WANE adj.

In Old English the number of words formed with the prefix is considerable, but none of them has survived into modern English, and only one (wanspéd, ill-success) into Middle English. Of the many new formations that arose in Middle English, only wantoȝen, undisciplined, WANTON adj. and n., still survives in use (with no consciousness of its etymological meaning); wanhope and wantrust may have been suggested by the equivalent Middle Dutch forms. It was in the north that the prefix was most prolific, and it probably continued to be productive far into the modern period. The following words, peculiar to the Scottish and northern dialects, are recorded in the Eng. Dial. Dict., mostly with examples (or references to glossaries etc.) from the 18th c., but few if any of them are now in current use:—wancanny adj., WANCHANCY adj., wancheer grief, sadness, wancouth adj. = uncouth, wandeidy adj., mischievous, WANDOUGHT n. and adj., wanearthly adj., WANEASE n., WANFORTUNE n., wanfortunate, adj. WANHAP n., WANLIESUM adj., wanlit adj., wanluck, wanown't adj. = unowned, wanreck 'mischance, ruin', WANREST n., WANTHRIVEN adj., wanuse misuse, waste, WANWEIRD n., WANWORTH adj. and n.
wannabe, n. and adj.
Pronunciation: /ˈwɒnəbɪ/
Forms: Also wannabee.
Etymology: WAN- prefix + epenthetic a + BE v.
A. n.
         = WAN-A-BE n.; an inadequate individual with a defective sense of his or her identity.

Season's greetings,
Eric Thomson

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