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Sometimes a prefix and a suffix collide to form a word. An example is malino (mal- + -ino) which is sometimes used in informal language to mean ”a man”. However, I’ve often wondered: Which ’fix gets to decide the overall meaning of the word? A few points to describe what I’m hinting at:

  • malino is interpreted as ”la malo de ino” not as a female malo (which of course would be some kind of Lewis Carrol-style nonsense!) < here mal- gets the upper hand in forming the meaning…
  • but what about malega – would it mean ”small” or ”very mala”?
  • and what about ekseco – would it mean ”a former quality” (with the prefix as the strongest part, as in malino) or ”quality of being former” (with the suffix as the defining part?)
  • and if we take a verb like ekigi, would it mean igi eka (with ek- as the stronger element) or eke igi (with an emphasis on -ig)?

I’m sure it’s possible to make a lot of more examples (praulo, boeco, geisto etc.), and maybe I’m getting a little crazy thinking about this, but I’ve really often thought about this, so hopefully there’s somebody out there who has a good answer? :-)

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Someone said to me years ago that language is not math. That is, when trying to express something in Esperanto, so-called "logic" can only take us so far. Eventually we have to use common sense, tradition, and the principle of neceso kaj sufiĉo.

That is, there may not be an answer to these questions.

It's true, however, that there are differences between prefixes and suffixes on one hand, and normal compounding on the other. It is for this reason that malgrandeta means slightly small, and eteta means teeny tiny.

Malino as "a female opposite" is difficult to consider because language is not math. It's nonsense, so it's difficult to even imagine how this could be seen as making sense.

The same can be said for malega with the sense of "the next order of magnitude of opposite." Something is either opposite or it's not. There aren't degrees of opposite, so we can reject that meaning. If it has any meaning, it's got to be the other one.

Ekseco to me very clearly means "the quality of being 'former'". The PIV definition of eks doesn't make sense with eco. A former quality would be eksa eco.

My sense with ekigi is that it would have to mean "to cause something to eki" - and that's exactly how it's used, twice in Articles from Monato.

  • [Tio] ekigis la modernigon de Japanio

This doesn't mean it couldn't be used in a different way, as long as the context was clear (my own example):

  • Tio igis la modernigon de Japanio fiaski.
  • Kiam tio ekigis la modernigon de Japanio fiaski?

My advice, however, would be not to do it this way because it's hard to understand, and therefore stylistically questionable.

  • I thank you for this very good reply, which I think is the closest we’ll get to an answer. You’re right that there’s a limit to logic in languages, even a language as ”logical” as Esperanto. I guess as time passes, language users will come up with more prefix+suffix words that will leave the interpretation to common sense. :-) I just thought of a new one: Would eksilo be ”a former tool” or ”a tool used to eksi”? (Yes, it might sound as nonsense, but one day, as technology evolves, it just might make sense!) – Bjørn Apr 17 '17 at 13:29
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    Eksigilo :-) – Tomaso Alexander Apr 17 '17 at 16:35
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Although I wouldn't use malino or really say it makes much sense, I've seen it a couple times and now know what it is. Only on the internet and as a stand-alone word, like in a form you fill out where it asks your sex. I don't know why this word was even proposed as a translation of the form. In regards to malega, that actually made sense although it doesn't logically. As already mentioned, logic can't solve everything.

  • In what way did malega make sense to you – with the meaning ”small” or with the meaning ”very opposite”? – Bjørn Apr 19 '17 at 6:59
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    To me oppositeness doesn't have degrees. It either is opposite or it's just different, not opposite. So for me ega is about size not degree/intensity, malega approximately equals eta. – Airvian Apr 19 '17 at 16:02
  • ok, thanks for clarifying :-) – Bjørn Apr 20 '17 at 8:27

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