Scientific and non-scientific -ist

Yesterday, in my posting “And you thought -ize was complicated”, a Tom Gauld cartoon showing the great semantic versatility of the suffix –ist. And now, from the 2020 collection Department of Mind-Blowing Theories: Science Cartoons [from New Scientist magazine] by Tom Gauld, –ist as used for names of scientific fields vs. for a variety of other meanings (while showing considerable morphophonological variety in these words).

(#1) The cover of Mind-Blowing

The array in yesterday’s posting:


And now the Mind-Blowing array, with a repeat appearance of duellist:


The scientist names mostly have the –logist element mentioned in my 3/9 posting (related to –logy): cosmologist, entomologist, paleontologist, geologist. But there’s also physic-ist / physic-s (cf. physic-al as in physical laws ‘laws of physics’), with a base (to which –ist is suffixed) inside the science name; chem-ist / chem-ist-ry (cf. art-ist / art-ist-ry), where the –ist is part of the scientist name, with the scientist name serving as the base for the science name, with –ry suffixed to this base; and  botan-ist / botan-y (cf. parod-ist / parod-y), with a bound base botan-, to which -ist is suffixed for the scientist name, and nominalizing –y suffixed for the science name. Rich and complex morphophonology here.

The not-scientist items mostly have –ist straightforwardly suffixed to a base noun, but with very wide-ranging semantics: a tourist goes on a tour, a cubist practices an art form in which the cube shape is central, a duellist fights a duel, a trombonist plays the trombone, a unicyclist rides a unicycle — and a tobacconist (with an N breaking up the vowel-vowel sequence in tobacco + –ist) sells tobacco products. The noun televangelist, however, has the –ist of evangelist, related to the verb evangelize.

Back in yesterday’s examples, where the point is about the semantics, there’s still some notable morphophonology: a bound root dent– ‘tooth’ in dentist (cf. dent-al); a bound root taxiderm– in taxiderm-ist (related to taxiderm-y; see botan-ist / botan-y above); and the exceptional allomorph flaut– of flute in flautist.

There are considerable islands of regularity in all of this, but a lot of the semantic and formal — (morpho)phonological — relationships in the word pairings here are idiosyncratic, just matters that have to be learned individually and memorized by speakers of English.

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