Wordwatch Towers

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.


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40% off anoraks
Image by I like via Flickr

In the UK, someone who is obsessively interested in and knowledgeable about a particular subject is commonly called an ‘anorak’.

Oxford Dictionaries‘ definition of the word specifies that such a person would be ‘socially inept’, and the Oxford Dictionary of English says that the word is ‘derogatory’. I don’t particularly agree with either of those comments, but that discussion would be a different post.

This post is inspired by a self-confessed anorak interviewed on BBC Radio 4 whose obsessive interest was clouds. The interviewer described him as having ‘anoraxia’, a perhaps distasteful play on the word ‘anorexia’. I suppose, to extend the slightly off-colour humour, Cloud Man could also be described as ‘anoraxic’.

This got me thinking about those two suffixes (word endings): ia and ic.

The first — ia — is a suffix derived from Greek and Latin, one use of which is to create medical terms such as ‘anorexia’.

The second — ic — is a suffix derived from French (ique), Greek and Latin, one use of which is to form adjectives such as ‘anorexic’. (‘Anorexic’ can also be a noun.)

More neologisms


8 Responses

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  1. Hi — I think ‘anorak’ is very much a British term (and is noted as such in the Oxford Dictionary of English). Yes, the subject of hijacking medical terms, particularly for use as terms of abuse, has been much discussed elsewhere on this blog. I think the presenter was probably just being a bit insensitive in the example above.


    25/05/2010 at 6:31 am

    • It’s a British term? Though when I think about it, it does not sound particularly German, no. Weird how we often don’t even consider the etymology of familiar words…


      26/05/2010 at 12:52 pm

      • Hi — British when used in the way described in this post, but originally from Greenland. The term ‘anorak’ to describe someone who is extremely knowledgeable and obsessive about a subject was adopted in this country in the 1980s. It relates to the anoraks supposedly worn by trainspotters who are deemed to typify this type of person.


        26/05/2010 at 1:23 pm

        • Thank you! That’s so fascinating. God, your blog really re-awakens the language geek in me.


          27/05/2010 at 10:32 pm

          • Hi — you’re welcome! Thanks very much.


            28/05/2010 at 6:40 am

  2. OOh, I didn’t know about this meaning of ‘anorak’. I only know it – from German – in the sense hinted at in the picture.

    And well, let’s hope it was a conscious – if then completely distasteful – play of anorexia vs anorak. And not that he simply didn’t know what he was talking about. I mean, it’s astonishing how ignorant some people are when it comes to any medical condition to do with psychology.


    25/05/2010 at 6:03 am

  3. Never heard that word before.


    25/05/2010 at 7:06 am

    • Hi, Lisa — it’s used a lot here in the UK. I think it must sound very strange and puzzling to people who haven’t come across it before!


      25/05/2010 at 7:10 am

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