“Don’t Scare Me Like That, :izer!”

So, Black Panther is the best movie and Shuri is the best character (fight me) and this is one of her best lines and I can’t stop thinking about why it’s so goooooood.

Tthere are a million reasons but I mean why the WORD is so good. Here’s where I’ve landed:

“Colonizer” is a word we can immediately make sense of, but the genius of it is partly that it’s not the word we are most used to using when talking about people who start and live in colonies. That’s “colonist.” So: what’s an -ist and what’s an -izer?

From Etymonline:

-ist: word forming element meaning “one who does or makes,” also used to indicate adherence to a certain doctrine or custom, from French -iste and directly from Latin -ista (source also of Spanish, Portuguese, Italian -ista), from Greek agent-noun ending -istes, which is from -is-, ending of the stem of verbs in -izein, + agential suffix -tes.

And what’s an -izer? Well, that’s two morphemes. er, “one who has to do with”, and “-ize”:

-ize: word-forming element used to make verbs, Middle English -isen, from Old French -iser, from Late Latin -izare, from Greek -izein, a verb-forming element denoting the doing of the noun or adjective to which it is attached.

English picked up the French form, but partially reverted to the correct Greek -z- spelling from late 16c. In Britain, despite the opposition to it (at least formerly) of OED, Encyclopaedia Britannica, the “Times of London,” and Fowler, -ise remains dominant. Fowler thinks this is to avoid the difficulty of remembering the short list of common words not from Greek which must be spelled with an -s- (such as advertisedevisesurprise).

So there’re some different morphemes involved, but not ones that entail a major difference in sense. Pragmatically, though, it seems like “-izer” brings something both active and transitive with it in a way that matters for Shuri being hilarious. Like…you can sort of just sit around being a colonist, or an apologist; we also use -ist for job titles based on activities, so you can definitely sit around being an acupuncturist or an anesthesiologist. “Colonist” came to also mean “inhabitant of a colony,” so a baby could be born into a colony and be immediately lumped in with all the colonists, and that has further separated the word from its verby roots. Since -ize is the actual verb-making form, and that long vowel is preserved with just a wee “r” on the end, -izer  gives more of a do-y feeling. And because a lot of the verbs ending in “-ize” can be used transitively, there’s not just a do-y feeling, there’s a do-y-to-y feeling:   -izers are makers of and doers to.*

Which is why we laaaaaugh when Shuri says “don’t scare me like that, colonizer!” I think it wouldn’t land at all if she called him a colonist. If she called him a colonist, we’d be like “that’s weird, he doesn’t live in a colony, does otherwise knowledgeable Shuri not understand where he lives and what year it is?” and just be confused. But when she calls him a colonizer, we get to have a moment of “wait, he’s not actually engaged in…OH WAIT YES ALL WHITE PEOPLE YES AHAHAHAHHAA!!” and it’s just delicious.

Ok so now are you wondering how “colony” relates to the kind of colon in the title, and to the kind working on your most recent sandwich? (Ok but are you NOW??)

Well, the answer is not related at all. But I am excited to tell you that there is some question about whether those two relate to each other or not!

The modern answer seems to be somewhere between “no” and “we don’t know.” Etymonline says both are ultimately of uncertain origin (SO IT COULD BE). My 1934 Webster’s International says they both come from the same Greek root, meaning “limb.”

You get to believe what you want to believe, I guess.

So then, what about “colonel”? (And why is is spelled like that but pronounced like this?)

Not related:


Which is, despite the pointy finger, extremely unhelpful. Etymonline is better:

“chief commander of a regiment of troops,” 1540s, coronell, from Middle French coronel (16c.), modified by dissimilation from Italian colonnella “commander of the column of soldiers at the head of a regiment,” from compagna colonella “little column company,” from Latin columna “pillar,” collateral form of columen “top, summit,” from PIE root *kel- (2) “to be prominent; hill.”

The French spelling was reformed late 16c. English spelling was modified 1580s in learned writing to conform with the Italian form (via translations of Italian military manuals), and pronunciations with “r” and “l” coexisted until c. 1650, but the earlier pronunciation prevailed. Spanish and Portuguese  coronel, from Italian, show similar evolution by dissimilation and perhaps by influence of corona. Abbreviation col. is attested by 1707.

So there it all is. “Colonizer” is just so good, and since it’s not mine to use, I’m very happy to have spent a little time with it.

*of course with exceptions. Extemporize etc etc.

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