Fadfix sighting! We’re heading for a fadfixpocalypse… Oh, wait, no, that faddish pseudomorpheme suffix is already so last season… We’re in for a fadfixnado!

Yes, we are in the middle of a whirling vortex of whirling vortices, or at least increasingly tenuous vortex metaphors, and they’re served, as coin-machine metaphors often are in English, by a pseudomorpheme suffix to make insta-portmanteaux!

OK, I’ll unpack that a little. A morpheme is the smallest meaningful unit of language – for instance, in reading there are two: read (the verb meaning ‘take in verbal information visually’) and ing (an inflectional suffix indicating either present participle or gerund). A pseudomorpheme is something that looks like a morpheme but isn’t really.

In the word helicopter, for instance, there are two morphemes in the Greek original (helico + pter) but arguably just one in modern English (because we don’t recognize its constituent bits as separate units), but we have reanalyzed it as having the parts heli (meaning unspecified) and copter (a hovering flying machine); likewise, we’ve reanalyzed alcoholic into alc (referring to drink) and oholic (referring to addiction, and in other places sometimes showing up as aholic), so we have chocoholic, shopaholic, et cetera. (After all, the reference would hardly be clear if we said chocolatic, shoppic, et cetera).

A portmanteau word is a blend – it takes part of one word and part of another to make a new word. That’s what’s really going on with all these words that are this-copter and that-aholic and the-other-pocalypse and now something-else-nado. It splits up words into pseudomorphemes, and sometimes those pseudomorphemes take on lives of their own.

So we have the word tornado. This comes from Spanish tronada ‘thunderstorm’ (an inflected form of tronar ‘thunder’ (verb)) with likely influence from tornar ‘turn’ for the change from ro to or. Thus originally the ado is from a suffix and the torn is from a root. But since we will always stick a consonant on the beginning of the next syllable rather than the end of the previous one if we can, we say it as tor-nado and borrow the nado for new words.

New words like what? Well, there have been a few references such as fish-nado for tornado-like movements of fish. But since the über-schlocky TV movie Sharknado hit, it has become a real cultural reference – it has found its vector (go figure). Miley Cyrus inspired twerknado, for instance, while American politics have given us things such as student-loan-nado and defundnado, the latter of which is notable for the lack of the hyphen (and for observing it I thank @mettle). We can see that the nado is now established well enough that it doesn’t need that hyphen to make it clear that this is a lexical wedding of convenience.

You will also find nado in a few places that aren’t references to tornados. Nado is a surname, for one. It’s also a nickname for Coronado, which is across the harbour from San Diego. And nado is also a word in Spanish, Portuguese, Galician, Catalan, and Asturian; it means ‘I swim’ – which is one way to get from San D to Nado. It’s also a Japanese word, meaning ‘and so on’ or ‘et cetera’ or ‘and whatnot’ and so on.

Actually, although the Japanese word is surely coincidence (especially since, as with Spanish nado, the a is pronounced as in “father” and not as in “fader”), I like the idea that it has, ninja-like, infiltrated English, so that this pseudomorpheme, formerly referring clearly to a wind vortex, now just adds a certain miscellany to the word, an intensification of piling on more than of swirling.

As further evidence of the ninja-creeping of this nado, I present evidence of its sneaking into the restaurant where I ate supper tonight. We had very good Mexican food (including Margaritas) at Fernando’s Hideaway, a well-established neighbourhoody place here Toronto. Like any decent one-off restaurant, it establishes its credibility with numerous spelling and typographical errors in its menus (only slick corporate restaurants can afford proofreaders). But unless I’m in for some visceral twisting consequent to my dinner, I think the ninjas have snuck in and are lurking:


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