Have you ever been curious about the use of -ish in English? Using noun+ish is a perfectly standard way of converting a noun into an adjective and there are various examples in the dictionary, for instance Jew-Jewish, child-childish, boy-boyish, wasp-waspish, fool-foolish. However, adding -ish to adjectives is a different ballgame and people are having fun with this small suffix.
-ish with colors
You will often hear the suffix -ish used with colors. It seems that colors were the first adjectives to add -ish, way back in the Middle Ages, as in 'bluish' and 'blackish'. The suffix gives a sense of 'somewhat', or 'rather'. Here are two 21st-century examples:
* 'He was wearing a reddish-blue sweater.' ('The sweater is blue but somewhat red.')
* 'Walk down Main Street. My office is the greenish building on your left.'
(i.e. 'My office is the rather green building.')
-ish with time or age
In the early 20th century -ish was extended to hours of the day or number of years as these examples demonstrate:
* 'I think my neighbor is fifty-ish.'
* 'I'll arrive at sevenish.'
* 'The movie always starts late-ish.'
In these examples, -ish is used to mean 'around' or 'about that time or age'. Interestingly, you'll often hear people say, 'He'll arrive around eightish.' 'The actor is about forty-ish.' Why bother to add -ish if you have already said 'around'? Perhaps it's just as a way of emphasizing the approximate timing.
-ish with adjectives
All the above examples have long been used in the English language, but it seems to me that the suffix -ish is becoming even more popular these days as people add it to more and more adjectives. Take for example these two examples:
* 'My friend is the tallish man standing over there.'
* 'This oil painting is oldish.'
Here the suffix is being used in a colloquial way to 'mute' or reduce the value of the adjective. 'My friend is not really tall, but he is above average height.' 'The painting is not very old, but it is certainly a few years older than you might expect.'
A Google search reveals that we are adding -ish to just about every adjective under the sun - as beautifulish, Europeanish, freezingish, exhaustedish... demonstrate. The suffix is a nice example of the flexibility of English and the way that we love to play with language. And because -ish is being used in a playful manner here, you're unlikely to find these muted adjectives in any dictionary.
Finally, I want to look at how -ish is used on its own, to mean 'not very' 'sort of' or 'kinda'.
• * 'I can play the piano. Ish.' [I'm OK, but I want you to understand that I'm not wonderful.]
• * 'I'm a good mother. Ish.' [Well, I cannot say that I am a perfect mother, but I'm not bad. A rather tongue-in-cheek comment.]
• * Q: 'Do you like watching soccer on TV?' A: 'Ish.' [Yes, I do watch soccer on TV, but not that often.]
• * 'A: 'Wasn't Nicole Kidman terrific in the movie?'
B: 'Ish.' [Ms. Kidman was OK, but she wasn't terrific.]
If you are have any doubt about the growing popularity of the suffix, then please check out a delightful children's book called Ish by Peter Reynolds. The book tells the story of Ramon, a young boy who loves to draw 'anytime, anything, anywhere.' However, Ramon's older brother laughs at one of his pictures and points out that it does not look like a real vase of flowers. Ramon loses all his confidence and crumples up his drawings. However, Ramon soon discovers that his younger sister has hung the discarded papers on her bedroom walls. When Ramon tells his sister that the picture of the vase doesn't look like the real thing, she tells him that it looks "vase-ISH." Ramon understands that he doesn't need to draw exact replicas and begins to produce paintings that look "tree-ish," "afternoon-ish," and "silly-ish." He stops worrying about exact detail and draws only for pleasure.
I hope that this brief exploration of one of the less well-known English suffixes has entertained you. Ish, I hear you reply...