24 October 2013

Like, Where's That From?

The other day I was thinking about German suffixes, as one does, and their English equivalents. 

For example:

-heit  (E. -ness, as in Blindheit, or "blindness");
-keit (E. -ness, as in Einsamkeit, or "loneliness"); 
-schaft (E. -ness, as in Bereitschaft, or "readiness")*; or even 
-nis (-niß) (which, after all is said and done, also has a ness-ness to it).

I have a particular fondheit for the suffix -lich. It corresponds roughly to the English -ly suffix, and is used in German as a frequent adjectival ending. In English it's evident mostly in adverbs ("mostly", "quickly") and a few adjectives ("friendly", "likely"). 

Thinking about English -ly, it seems clear that it means like, as in "friend-like". Adverbially (which is the adverbial form of "adverbial"), you can see this connection in such a colloquialism as "quick-like" (instead of "quickly").** 

It doesn't seem hard to get from the use of -ly as a suffix — as a grammatical form appended to the end of a noun or adverb — to the stand-alone use of the word like, as in "this whisky is like molten gold". 

I'm not aware of a German word that looks like -lich and is at the same time used like like. That doesn't mean it doesn't exist. But since much of this blog's word play is about "speculative linguistics", I can speculate that we derive our English stand-alone like from the German -lich suffix, by way of our English -ly.

Is my speculation correct? I like to think it's likely.

- o - o -

* Okay, -schaft is more properly E. -ship, but that's a synonym for -ness.

** It's fortunate we have this colloquial form to resort to, because then we can make adverbs out of some awkward adjectives like "friendly". Saying something is "all friendly-like" is nicer than saying friendlily.

- o - o -

Now, where does the verb to like fit into all this? Maybe it began through the use of the above mentioned stand-alone like as a downgrading of to love. According to this theory, the first instance could have gone something like this:

He: Do you love me?
She: Hm, well...
He: Do you not love me?
She: I wouldn't say love, darling, but something very much like it. Not quite love, but like.


  1. The German word for like (or alike) is gleich. That fits pretty closely with both lich and like. But to like something is mag, or mögen. So very different! I have such a hard time saying I "mag" something! I like (haha) sticking lich at the end of words. Just like Americans can make a verb out of any noun (if you don't believe me google it) I love how I can stick ich at the end of words in German. :)

    1. Kelly, I think you might be on to something, with the "leich" part of "gleich". I'll bet you're right. Time for me to start looking it up.

      As for the "macaron incident", what can I say? Great minds and such...

  2. BTW, your family was on my mind last night while I was reading a Macaron cookbook and wishing I had studied French as a kid! It was fun to see a post from you this morning!