The OED has introduced the term "combining form" for elements like astro-, omni-, -naut, -ology, etc. borrowed from Latin or Greek, but has never really defined the term or provided a plausible delimitation from affixes. More recent attempts to define and delimit this category have not been convincing because of its fuzziness. This paper proposes that we give up this word-formational category and instead recognise that English word-formation, because of extensive borrowing, not only has word-based but also stem-based word-formation. Moreover, for historical reasons, the boundary between lexemes and affixes is fuzzy, because lexemes can turn into semi-affixes (affixoids) and finally into real affixes. Finally, lexemes can be clipped and such clippings can also occur in compounds. It is proposed that compounding, affixation, clipping, and blending should be regarded as prototypical patterns arranged on a scale of progressively less independent constituents ranging from word via stem, affixoids, affix, curtailed word/stem to splinters as constituents of blends, and finally acronyms (letter combinations). This scale interacts with the typological heterogeneity of the English word-formation system, which allows both words and stems as input into word-formation processes. The paper concludes that the notion of a "combining form" is something like a red herring in lexicology, because it creates more problems than it solves and should therefore be given up.
Selected Proceedings of the 2008 Symposium on New Approaches in English Historical Lexis (HEL-LEX 2)
edited by R. W. McConchie, Alpo Honkapohja, and Jukka Tyrkkö
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