I always find it fascinating how the meaning of a word can change thanks to the addition of just a few letters.

Take the word “smart” for example. It used to mean only well-dressed, neat or clever. If you were too clever, you’d be labelled a “smartypants”. As a verb, it means to sting: an insect bite will “smart”. The Dutch word for “smart” is “slim” which of course in English means slender, thin. The Dutch word “smart” means grief, sorrow (from Proto-Germanic “smarta”). Are you still with me? Getting side-tracked is an occupational hazard!

Nowadays, smart is mainly applied to anything non-human: appliances, phones, cars etc. Add dots between the letters (S.M.A.R.T.) and you get a mnemonic for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound which you use to set realistic goals. Or not.

Back to the suffix: add “ish” and you get smartish, which means quickly – ‘I need to finish this translation smartish!’. Confusingly, the suffix …ish also weakens a word. So “smartish” also means not quite as smart as smart.😊 And adds an element of approximation to a word.

Time of arrival – sixish.

What age is she? Thirtyish.

Not quite professional – amateurish.

Childish, foolish, sheepish, bookish, yellowish, selfish, feverish, brutish, squeamish…

Back to work!