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.