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Livery, Grocery, and the Suffix -Ery

William Hupy has been struggling with the English suffix -ery, which seems to have at least two different meanings, neither of which fit livery and grocery. I wrote this up quickly in hopes of clarifying the functions of this suffix and its various relationships. I thought some of you might be interested, too.

The English suffix -ery is an adaptation of the Latin -oria which came to French as the suffix -erie, usually meaning “place of”: bakery, eatery, brewery, nunnery. However, it sometimes converts a noun into the quality that identifies the noun: tomfoolery, knavery, savagery.

When English borrows such words directly from Latin, the suffix -ory is the result, e.g. laboratory, observatory, dormitory, depository, a suffix more frequently used to convert verbs into adjectives: congratulatory, conciliatory, exclamatory. (Don’t be surprised that a suffix in English has more than one function. Suffixes are dying out like flies in English and, as the number of suffixes dwindle, the remainder must pick up more and more funtions.)

Livery and grocery do not contain either suffix. Livery comes from a French word meaning “delivery”, originating in the Latin word liberare “to liberate, set free”. Grocery is simply the suffix -y added to grocer. The latter word has an interesting history. It comes from grossus “large, thick” with the suffix -arius, a personal suffix meaning “someone who (does something)”. The original word, grossarius, meant “wholesaler”, i.e. someone selling on a large scale, as opposed to a small-scale retailer, rather like someone selling by the gross rather than by the item.

One Response to “Livery, Grocery, and the Suffix -Ery”

  1. Paul Ogden Says:

    This entry sent me scurrying to the AHD.

    Not listed there is the sense of livery used by airlines to denote the “costume” of their aircraft: the logo, exterior paint scheme, interior colors, staff uniforms, even the color of the blanket for long-haul flights and the color of the food tray. It’s obviously an extension of the sense of uniform. See http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=airline+livery+design&aq=0&oq=%22airline+livery%22

    And while on the subject of airplanes, their interiors are not cleaned but rather groomed. Perhaps a euphemism, perhaps somehow connected to livery: http://www.hurley-group.com/us/hm/inside.php?id=43

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