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He is a nice enough boy - Rather Jimmy Olesenish I thought.

He's an honest man, rather Lincolnesque in his manner.

She has an unreal figure, rather Barbieish in its proportions!

Can anyone explain the usage? I am very confused by -ish in such situations.

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    In informal spoken English, it's quite common to hear things like "sort of" (also "sorta"), "like", "so", "kind of" (also "kinda"). You can think of these X-ish words (which are not those words with the -ish suffix you can find in dictionaries) as "sort of like X". For example, A said, "Look at that purple bear!" Then, B said, "Oh, yeah! It's so purple-ish!" Though this is non-standard English, it could make your conversation sorta fun-ish. :-) – Damkerng T. Mar 19 '14 at 8:59
  • Great. Thank you so much. However, I can not understand this one yet: Jimmy Olesenish – nima Mar 19 '14 at 9:13
  • Jimmy Olesen is a person, so a boy who is "rather Jimmy Olesenish" is a boy who is rather like "Jimmy Olesen" in one way or another. (According to your example, he is a nice enough boy. He must be nice enough, rather like Jimmy Olesen.) – Damkerng T. Mar 19 '14 at 9:20
  • My problems are: RATHER and OLESINIESH – nima Mar 19 '14 at 9:36
  • I'm sorry. I thought you already knew the word rather. You can find the word rather in any dictionaries. In your sentence, you can think of "rather" as "to a fairly large degree". (You can also look it up in a dictionary that translates rather into your own language.) As for "Olesenish" it's from "Olesen-ish". As I said, "Olesen" is someone's name. "Olesen"+ish or "Olesenish" means "like 'Olesen'". – Damkerng T. Mar 19 '14 at 10:05
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This -ish suffix itself isn't actually "informal" (foolish, childish, devilish, for example, are well-established).

According to OED, the usage extended from nouns such as fool, child, devil centuries ago, to include adjectives - initially with colours (bluish, greenish, etc.), but "in later use also with other adjectives, and now, in colloquial use, possible with nearly all monosyllabic adjectives, and some others".

OED's definition for the suffix when applied to a noun says...

Of or belonging to a person or thing; of the nature or character of.
...
In recent colloquial and journalistic use, -ish has become the favourite ending for forming adjs. for the nonce (esp. of a slighting or depreciatory nature) on proper names of persons, places, or things, and even on phrases, e.g. Disraelitish, Heine-ish, Mark Twainish, Micawberish, Miss Martineauish, Queen Annish, Spectator-ish, Tupperish, West Endish; all-over-ish, at-homeish, devil-may-care-ish, how-d'ye-doish, jolly-good-fellowish, merry-go-roundish, out-of-townish, and the like.

Obviously some of the more "unusual" versions could well be called "informal", and because there's often the possibility of a more "scholarly" alternative (Micawberesque rather than Micawberish, for example), some people may feel it's inherently a bit informal. But I don't really think so - it's just that the suffix is so "productive" people naturally make use of it to informally create nonce words as and when they want.


As OP seems to have discovered, rather is often used conjunction with -ish forms (including "rather childish" as well as "rather Barbieish"). Usually, it will have the sense of to some extent, or in some way, but in some contexts it might have more of the "comparative" meaning to a greater extent...

"I wouldn't say she's 'Barbieish' - rather 'Dolly Partonish', to my mind."


EDIT: Because it's become increasingly common in recent years, I'll just make special mention of -ish as used to impart a certain "vagueness" to times...

"Drop by my office tomorrow afternoon. Three-ish would be fine."
"I've nearly finished coding the new app. It should be ready for testing Wednesday-ish"

In fact, this usage has become so common, the suffix can sometimes be used on its own...

"Hi. I'm just calling to make sure you're coming early to help prepare for my party tonight."
"Stop worrying! I told you before I'll definitely be there"
"Great! See you at 6 then!"
"Ish." [hangs up]

(where that final word effectively means "I'll arrive about 6, but probably later than you're expecting.")

  • Thank you so much. But, what is your opinion about the usage rather in the following sense?- I wonder whether at my original question has been used rather like the following sense or not!• on the contrary; "rather than disappoint the children, he did two quick tricks before he left"; "he didnt call; rather (or instead), he wrote her a letter" – nima Mar 20 '14 at 13:58
  • @nima_persian: Your question text doesn't mention any problems with the word "rather" (which would have no significant connection to the actual question about the suffix "-ish"). Even OED says (of "rather") "In many instances it is difficult to determine whether the word is being used as a moderator or an intensifier. In spoken language, intonation may indicate this." That's to say, it can mean very or a little bit dependent on context, as well as being an adverb with general senses of earlier, sooner, more willingly, by preference, etc. Ask another question if you're stuck. – FumbleFingers Mar 20 '14 at 16:33
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The -ish is informal. A word suffixed with -ish isn't normal English, but is used to mean the word it describes is similar to the suffixed word. Simply put:

To say a man is similar to a bird (for whatever reason it might suit you) can be written (informally) as
This man is birdish. It's used whenever an object almost but doesn't quite match an adjective.

Another example: to say that someone should arrive at about nine o'clock could be reworded to say Arrive at nine o'clock-ish. This one is far more informal, but it helps understanding.

The word 'rather' has the same meaning as 'somewhat', to answer the question raised in the comments.

  • Am i CORRECTLY EXPLAIN THE FOLLOWING? He is somewhat like Jimmy Olesen. – nima Mar 19 '14 at 12:13
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    @nima_persian Yes, Jimmy Olesenish means similar to Jimmy Olesen. – choster Mar 19 '14 at 17:33
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    Not my downvote, but I would just point out that native speakers would be highly unlikely to "generate" the word birdish. For all contexts I can imagine, they'd use birdlike (possibly hyphenated as bird-like, but that's probably becoming less common lately). – FumbleFingers Mar 19 '14 at 18:07
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    @Hellion: Obviously, but assuming learners aspire to sound "natural" rather than simply be understood, they need to know that -ish doesn't sound good where an alternative suffix is already in established use. So, for example, Orwellish would tend to raise eyebrows among those who expect Orwellian, and Rubenish is effectively an "error", given that we actually use Rubenesque. Whatever - I still think that comprehensible or not, birdish is not at all a good example. – FumbleFingers Mar 19 '14 at 19:08
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    I agree with @fumblefingers, and think this would be quite a good answer if the example were changed. (It would also be quite interested to do further study on when native speakers are more likely to use like vs -ish.) – WendiKidd Mar 19 '14 at 23:38

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