The columnist

Today’s Zippy strip, with an unconventional sense of columnist:


Not someone who writes a column for publication, but a collector of columns, the architectural features — like a philatelist, but with pillars.

But then the suffix –ist is extraordinarily multifunctional.

(Note: pillars and columns are obvious phallic symbols, but the words pillar and column don’t appear to have been used as slang (they don’t appear in this sense in GDoS) for a penis, presumably because of their somewhat elevated register.)

The noun column. From NOAD:

1 [a] an upright pillar, typically cylindrical and made of stone or concrete, supporting an entablature, arch, or other structure or standing alone as a monument: a wide entrance portico of eight Ionic columns | the pulpit is hexagonal and stands on seven columns. [b] a vertical, roughly cylindrical thing: a great column of smoke. [c] an upright shaft forming part of a machine and typically used for controlling it: a Spitfire control column. 2 [a] a vertical division of a page or text: turn to page five, column seven | detail your expenses in the left-hand column. [b] a vertical arrangement of figures or other information: list your strengths and weaknesses in two columns | the typical business report consists of columns and rows of numeric information. [c] a section of a newspaper or magazine regularly devoted to a particular subject or written by a particular person: he has a weekly column in a Sydney newspaper | I’ve been reading your column for five years. 3 [a] one or more lines of people or vehicles moving in the same direction: a column of tanks moved northwest | we walked in a column. [b] Military a narrow-fronted deep formation of troops in successive lines: a column of 300 to 400 troops. [c] a military force or convoy of ships: Moran had commanded a column in the war | he organized his column for the coming march. ORIGIN [ultimately traceable back to] Latin columna ‘pillar’.

1a has the modern basic sense, from which the others radiate, primarily by metaphor and specialization.

Orders. The second panel of the Zippy and the first example sentence in the NOAD entry allude to a classificatory scheme for columns. From Wikipedia:

An order in architecture is a certain assemblage of parts subject to uniform established proportions, regulated by the office that each part has to perform. Coming down to the present from Ancient Greek and Ancient Roman civilization, the architectural orders are the styles of classical architecture, each distinguished by its proportions and characteristic profiles and details, and most readily recognizable by the type of column employed. The three orders of architecture — the Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian — originated in Greece. To these the Romans added, in practice if not in name, the Tuscan, which they made simpler than Doric, and the Composite, which was more ornamental than the Corinthian:

(#2) From the Britannica site, the capital styes for the five major orders of classical archiitecture

The noun columnist. From AHD5:

a writer of a column in a publication, such as a newspaper.

The derivative noun columnist has as its base column in sense 2c above; and sense 2c (a section of a publication with a certain kind of content) develops from sense 2a by association (newspaper and magazine articles, of all sorts, are customarily printed with the text in columns).

Surprisingly, NOAD doesn’t connect columnist to column (as AHD5 does, and as in fact OED2 does), but generalizes its sense:

a journalist contributing regularly to a newspaper or magazine.

(All staff journalists do this. However, at the New York Times, reporters like Maggie Haberman and Peter Baker contribute regularly to the paper but don’t have columns of their own, so that it would strike me as very odd to refer to them as columnists.) Presumably, the NOAD editors had a significant number of columnist cites in the generalized sense.

What you can do with –ist. Lots and lots of stuff. Note my 3/9/21 posting “And you thought -ize was complicated”, with a wide range of uses for the suffix. The closest Michael Quinion’s Affixes site (quoted in my posting) gets to Zippy’s usage in columnist is this:

a large number of terms have been generated from a variety of nouns, or sometimes from adjectives or verbs, to indicate a member of some profession or business activity, or a person engaged in some pursuit or activity: artist, cyclist, dentist, dramatist, florist, humorist, idealist, linguist, motorist, novelist, organist, scientist, trombonist.

That covers a fair amount of territory, but it doesn’t embrace philatelist ‘collector of postage stamps’, which is a close parallel to Zippy’s columnist ‘collector of architectural columns’. (In principle, philatelist and columnist could be used more generally, to convey merely ‘admirer of, enthusiast for’ rather than ‘collector of’.)

2 Responses to “The columnist”

  1. Mitch4 Says:

    The musical *modes* in Western tradition and still in modern music theory are given names from Greek, including “Ionian” and “Dorian” (sadly, apparently not “Doric”). This sort of fits with his title “Classical Muzak”.

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