-ability. As new verbs enter the language, -ability can be added to them, with a meaning that is readily apparent to and accepted by speakers (despite a certain curmudgeonliness about jargony coinings.) The hackability of computers is evidence of this. (An unproductive suffix, naturally, is one that was once used to form words in the language, but which can no longer be added to bases to form acceptable new words. Think of the -head in godhead and maidenhead, or the -lock in wedlock.)
English has recently gained a number of newly productive suffixes which are particularly interesting because they’ve been adapted from words in which they were not originally suffixes or separable parts at all. In other words, English (perhaps primarily American English) seems to have a recent predilection for randomly chopping the ends off words and investing these word fragments with new meanings as suffixes.
-gate - There’s no joy in the unfortunately ever-productive suffix denoting scandal. It derives from chopping the end off the place name “Watergate,” the site of what obviously wasn’t the first political scandal but was in 1972 perhaps the first big one to keep the national media frenzied in the era of extensive television coverage. Although a gate is, of course, just an innocent door in a wall or fence, we now hear about everything from Weinergate and Gamergate to utter trivialities in sports and entertainment. I think it’s a scandal how overused this suffix is, and if I thought it was a conspiracy, too, I’d allege a Gategate.
-inator - It’s unclear exactly when this began. Perhaps it comes from the Terminator movie in 1984, with the morphemes split after term instead of after terminate. Perhaps its first true use was Trogdor the Burninator in 2003. The feel of redundancy or overkill is deliberate, and it implies destruction to comic effect with overtones of mad science. It’s used as the go-to suffix by the mad scientist Dr Doofenshmirz on Disney’s animated show “Phineas and Ferb.” He has invented devices from the obvious Shrinkinator to the less obvious Giant Dog Biscuit-inator. Cheesy actual corporations using the suffix seem to be mostly in the pest control business and include Moleinator and Pestinator. But this is a suffix that isn’t as clearly defined as today’s other examples. A Destructinator seems pretty straightforward, but if I were to invent the Printinator, would it destroy prints, like the Pestinator (heaven forfend!)? Would it transform everything into a block print? Would it stamp relief prints onto everything? Perhaps that’s why this one really ought to remain in the world of comedy and fiction. When -inator is involved, you know you’re unleashing something of ridiculously awesome destructive power (or perhaps awesomely ridiculous destructive power), but the details may be dangerously vague.
[Pictures: Hamburg, woodcut from Cosmographia by Sebastian Munster, c. 1570 (Image from Albion Prints);
Crossing the Haha, Holkham, wood engraving by Cordelia Jones (Image from the Norwich Print Fair).]