I came across the first four of these in Rebecca Gowers’s book Horrible Words, which, despite its title, is a wonderful book. 

1. Greed came from greedy, which preceded it by 600 years. Similarly, laze came from lazy.

2. Diplomat is a back-formation from diplomatic, itself formed from diploma, an official document folded in two, from Greek diplo, twofold.

We’ll tell you what’s true. You can form your own view.

From 15p €0.18 $0.18 USD 0.27 a day, more exclusives, analysis and extras.

3. Enthuse, adapted from enthusiasm in 1827. Also one of Steven Fogel’s 27 nominations. 

4. Diagnose, from diagnosis, was first used in 1861. 

5. Reminisce. “In the 1950s my grammar school English teacher was adamant that there was no such verb,” says Jen Parry. It used to be regarded as a wrong back-formation from reminiscence. 

6. Grovel, from grovelling, in turn from the obsolete groof, grufe “the face or front”, from Old Norse á grúfu, “face downwards”, plus the suffix -ling. Thanks to Henry Peacock. Similarly, sidle comes from sid[e]ling. 

7. Injure, from injury. From Steven Fogel and Henry Peacock. 

8. Scavenge, from scavenger, originally scavager, from Anglo-Norman French scawage, tax, in turn from Old Northern French escauwer, inspect, from Flemish scauwen, to show. Nominated by Rich Greenhill and Henry Peacock. 

9. Edit, from editor. Thanks to Graham Kirby. “Reinforced,” according to the Oxford dictionary, by the French back-formation editer, from edition

10. Legislate, from legislation. Steven Fogel again. 

Some time ago, Veronica Lee came across a recording of Noel Coward on the radio talking about a “frivol” and asked for more. This list isn’t quite what she was asking for, but I think it’s interesting. Some nominations were received for humorous back-formations such as gruntled, which was used by PG Wodehouse, but that is actually in a different category, of lost positives. 

Next week: songs by bands about being in a band, such as “The Worst Band in the World” by 10cc: “Never seen the van – leave it to the roadies. Never met the roadies – leave ’em in the van.”

Coming soon: widely accepted aphorisms that are untrue, such as: “If a job is worth doing, it is worth doing well.”  

Your suggestions please, and ideas for future Top 10s, to me on Twitter, or by email to top10@independent.co.uk

Comments

Share your thoughts and debate the big issues

Learn more
Please be respectful when making a comment and adhere to our Community Guidelines.
  • You may not agree with our views, or other users’, but please respond to them respectfully
  • Swearing, personal abuse, racism, sexism, homophobia and other discriminatory or inciteful language is not acceptable
  • Do not impersonate other users or reveal private information about third parties
  • We reserve the right to delete inappropriate posts and ban offending users without notification

You can find our Community Guidelines in full here.

Create a commenting name to join the debate

Please try again, the name must be unique Only letters and numbers accepted
Loading comments...
Loading comments...
Please be respectful when making a comment and adhere to our Community Guidelines.
  • You may not agree with our views, or other users’, but please respond to them respectfully
  • Swearing, personal abuse, racism, sexism, homophobia and other discriminatory or inciteful language is not acceptable
  • Do not impersonate other users or reveal private information about third parties
  • We reserve the right to delete inappropriate posts and ban offending users without notification

You can find our Community Guidelines in full here.

Loading comments...
Loading comments...