What’s in a suffix?

Each language, they say, is a world. But each derivational morpheme? Back in the day, the day of doublet and hose, of rapier-and-dagger men, the Spanish brand had so much swagging street cred that the English English started lending macho flair to a word by adding “ado” and making fake Spanish words like “bravado” and “desperado.”
-oon too was a token of Romance romance, though it leaves a bitter aftertaste. Doubloons would seem more at home in a pirate’s hoard than a grocer’s till, and a saloon is a deal more swashbuckling than a salon. But the first maroons were not castaways, they were runaways, escaped from the death-camps of St. Domingue (slaves in the cane fields were worked to death so quickly that they were replaced, not by the children, but by fresh captives from Africa), living rough in the highlands, turning to that old-time religion and waiting for the day of vengeance. This history lies curled like a malign fetus inside our modern language.
Dragoons were just soldiers, called dragons in French for their fire-breathing muskets, but to be dragooned is to be an unarmed civilian ordered around at gunpoint. The word at first referred to those on the wrong side of a religious fence, but it seems more and more timely in a country where the police are asymptotically approaching the military.
Eventually –oon acquired enough of an aura that we started making our own words with it. Something, perhaps the combination of manliness and filth, made it appropriate for ‘spitoon.’ And someone gave a purer sense to the racism of the tribe with ‘octaroon.’ These precedents suggest that we might do well simply to kick some dirt over this toxic morpheme and leave its grave unmarked.
Then again, maybe we have a use for –oon as long as we have the the traces and consequences of maroon and dragoon and octaroon in our culture. Maybe it could be used to lampoon the electioons in which the most important voters are corporations orthe informatioon that comes from nowhere and circulates endlessly around the internet, or the incarceratioon of junkies and the mentally ill instead of the billionaire crooks who shattered our economy. Just a thought.

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