What’s brown and sticky?


As every British seven year old knows, the answer is “a stick”.

We can add -y to almost any word to make it mean something like ‘like a …’ or ‘quite …’, rather like -ish. Generally we add just the letter -y to do this, even when it creates an otherwise unfamiliar sequence of letters: yellowy, for instance, which doesn’t mean exactly the same as yellowish, or bluey. We don’t usually add -ey, because this is already an ending with other uses: monkey does not mean ‘like a monk’, and I’m not sure what a ‘donk’ would be. In fact, we may even delete a final e, as in poky, meaning small, presumably derived from the (now mostly dialectal) word ‘poke’, meaning a small bag, so that a ‘poky room’ is a very small, cramped, space.

However, sometimes we do have to make this ending -ey, for clarity, and an advert I’ve seen this week had the word ‘tomatoey’, to describe a pizza particularly rich in tomatoes. If this had been spelled ‘tomatoy’, the immediate reaction would be to pronounce the last syllable as ‘toy’, and the reader would be confused – not the aim of the advertiser. The latest advert for Ribena (for readers unfamiliar with this trademark, it’s a sweet blackcurrant drink) says “You Can’t Get Any More Ribenary“. At last! Someone has dared to introduce the notorious intrusive ‘r’ into the spelling!


  1. You must have led a very sheltered lexical life.
    There are multiple meanings of ‘donk’, as a cruise round the more salacious bits of the internet reveals:

    – car engine
    – poor poker player who makes mistakes
    – wet, moist or damp; generally applied to land or soil (Stoke-like vowel shift before nasals)
    – highly customized automobile, typically a traditional, full-size, body on frame, V8 powered, rear wheel drive American-built sedan modified by significantly increasing the ground clearance and adding large-diameter wheels with low-profile tires
    – provide a second person with a lift on a bicycle, seating the passenger either in front (on the handlebar) or behind (sharing the seat); travel as a passenger in such manner
    – a very round, attractive ghetto-style booty (shortened form of badonkadonk) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wYmrg3owTRE)

    So ‘donkey’ could mean ‘badonkadonky’.

    I think I’ll go and lie down for a bit

  2. I suppose the moral of this is always to look for a possible entry in the OED before writing anything. In fact, if I had (and I have now), all I would have found was ‘donk’ as a “colloq. abbrev. of donkey n.”, with quotes from The Athenaeum, Richmal Crompton and Edmund Blunden, so Alec’s six meanings would still have passed me by.

  3. Baldrick : Oh sir, you’re not going to become a highwayman, are you?
    Blackadder : No I’m auditioning for the part of Arnold the bat in Sheridon’s new comedy.
    Baldrick : Oh that’s alright then.
    Blackadder : Baldrick, have you no idea what irony is?
    Baldrick : Yeah! It’s like goldy and bronzy, only it’s made of iron.

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