views updated

-er1 suffix denoting one who or a thing which has to do with something and so the regular formative for agent-nouns; OE. -ere, corr. to OS. -ari (Du. -er), OHG. -āri (MHG. -ære, G. -er), ON. -ari, Goth. -areis :- Gmc. *-arjaz, prob. — L. -ārius -ARY, of which an accentual var. with ā was perh. evolved.

In the early Gmc. stage, such a deriv. as Goth. laisareis teacher, from *laisō LORE, became assoc. with laisjan teach, and was apprehended as its agent-noun; thus the model was provided for the universal application of the suffix to vb.-stems, as OE. bæcere baker, f. bacan, leornere learner, f. leornian, etc. Some Gmc. sbs. seem to be directly based on or suggested by L. agent-nouns formed on sbs.: e.g. OE. bōcere scribe = OHG. buochari, Goth. bokareis, f. *bōk- BOOK, after L. librārius copyist, scribe, f. liber book; direct formations on sbs. occur in OE., e.g. sangere singer, f. sang SONG, and continued to be made in ME. and later, e.g. docker, hatter, slater. OE. -ere, ME. -er(e) eventually became established as the universal suffix for new agent-nouns.

In ME. and later, -er was substituted for other suffixes or added superfluously to sbs. of which the endings did not obviously suggest their function; e.g. astrologer, astronomer superseded †astrologien, †astronomien; †cater, †fruiter, †sorcer were extended to caterer, fruiterer, sorcerer; prob, on the model of philosopher, derivs. of Gr. - L. words in -graphus, -logus assumed the forms -GRAPHER, -LOGER; an isolated instance is widower, in which -er provides a masculine counterpart to widow. A var. -ier is established in some occupational names, e.g. clothier, glazier, hosier; see -IER1.

The suffix occurs also in designations of natives or inhabitants, as Londoner, Britisher, New Zealander; so foreigner, islander, northerner, villager.

Some personal designations occur esp. as the fixed second el. of comps.; e.g. new-comer, on-looker, ironmonger, caretaker.

Many formations are applied almost exclusively to inanimate objects, as boiler, cracker, duster, poker, runner, stopper; (in pl. form mainly) clippers, dividers; articles of clothing are blazer, jumper, slipper; pl. drawers, trousers. There are many colloq. and sl. formations in which -er expresses ‘one’, as backhander, goner, header, sixfooter, ten-tonner. Akin to these are derogatory terms like blighter.