This paper is meant to analyze knitter’s morphological linguistics and how they have created new meanings of current words, developed their own words through blending and acronyms and use them in every day “knit talk”. The collection process involved a recorded conversation between myself and another knitter, Camille Tripp, in regards to our “stashes”, “wips”, what we have “frogged” and “wims” for the future.
The Morphology of Knitters
Throughout the semester we have studied what Linguistics is made of and the various ways we can study and take it apart. The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate morphology, the part of grammar that is words and their formation (116), and how subcultures have used morphology to create their own terminology that is understood between those within that subculture.
Within one of my own sub-cultures, one that is made up of a group of women (and some men) who have one thing in common – they all knit, I found that words had been created or morphed into new words that had new meanings that created a fun and interesting way for us to communicate with one another. In order to study the morphology of knitters I met with a fellow knitter, Camille Tripp, to have a conversation with her about our current projects and knitting in general. Camille is a 28 year old and has been knitting for almost 3 years. I chose her as a subject as she tends to use knitter’s lingo more often than others when she is around fellow knitters. She grew up in a suburb of Salt Lake City, UT, where she currently resides and has a high school education. She works as an administrative assistant within a large corporation out of Baton Rouge, LA. Camille is very comfortable having one on one conversations with others and prides herself in being able to articulate what is on her mind.
After our conversation I selected ten words and phrases that consisted of free morphemes and bound morphemes, acronyms, blending and the conversion of words that I created morphological tree structures out of in order to better analyze them.
Phrases within Knitter’s Lingo
Phrases used by knitters tend to combine two words together, mostly two free morphemes, but in the case of the first phrase demonstrated, combine a bound morpheme with a free morpheme. They are words that may be used together by others, but when used they will possess an entirely different meaning.
Camille described the “sweater curse”, a joke among knitters that you never knit a boyfriend (or girlfriend) a sweater unless you want to jinx the relationship as you will break up upon the completion of the sweater or beforehand, as the amount of time it takes to knit a sweater is about the half-life of a relationship. The phrase itself stems from two verbs (sweat and curse) with the –er affix. The three morphemes join together to create a noun. The word sweater is a derivation that was made by joining the verb sweat with the -er affix and by adding curse to the phrase knitters have created a jinx every single knitter dreads to start.
The phrase “yarn barf” truly sounds disgusting upon first notice, but you eventually find it is the most pleasant of all barfs – if you like tangles. Yarn barf occurs when one tries to pull the center out of a skein or ball of yarn and it results in a large amount of yarn coming out in a huge mess of knots and tangles. “Yarn barf” is a phrase that combines two free morphemes, a noun and a verb, to create a noun phrase.
A “frog pond” is more of a place and not a thing. Frogs are what a knitter calls an item they plan to take a part or un-stitch and as we all know, a pond is where frogs may live. The phrase “frog pond” consists of two free morpheme nouns that join together to create a place where a knitter stores their collection of objects they no longer wish to finish and should undo and use the yarn for a greater purpose.
Conversion within Knitter’s Lingo
Conversion is when a current word is changed to a different lexical category. As noted on page 124 of the text Contemporary Linguistics, the adding of the –ing affix oftentimes results in a verb becoming a noun or a verb becoming an adjective, not a noun becoming a verb. In this case, knitters have created an exception to the rule, particularly when used in a sentence such as, “I’m frogging my sweater tonight.”
To frog, as mentioned previously, is a word used by knitters when they need to rip a knitted piece apart. It stems from the when a knitter says I need to “rip it” and that at times it sounds like they are saying “rib bit”, or making the sound of a frog. Frog, being a noun, is used in this instance as a verb and hence is conversion. The inflicted word, Frogging, is made up of two morphemes. The first is a noun and by adding the –ing affix it becomes a verb.
Blending within Knitter’s Lingo
Blending occurs when a new word is created out of two other words. Blends consist of two nonmorphemic parts of two already existing words as demonstrated below (140).
Skein + Hank > Skank
Skank is the blending of the two words skein and hank, both of which are forms/shapes the yarn is stored in. It is a circular form that is twisted within itself to essentially make a knot that is easier for storage. Previously they were simply called hanks. Skeins used to be what a cylinder type ball of yarn was referred to as, but as time has progressed this has been changed to a ball while the more formal word of skein is used to refer to a hank of yarn. The blending of the two free morphemes creates a new noun within the knitter’s vocabulary.
Acronym’s within Knitter’s Lingo
Acronyms are formed when the initial letters of words within a phrase are taken and placed together. An acronym can be pronounced as a word and are different than initialisms (such as DC or CD) (141).
In studying the language of knitter’s there are many acronym’s that pop up. Of them I chose the most commonly used by Camille and the ones that felt more natural as she was saying them. WIP, pronounced like a whip, stands for Work in Progress. In studying the phrase it takes the verb “work”, proposition “in” and noun “progress” to create a noun. A WIP is an object a knitter is currently working on and has not stashed away for later finishing.
SABLE is an acronym I had never heard of before. The letters flow together to create a noun that would be used when describing a future event, possibly the apololyspse. Why? Because SABLE stems from the phrase “Stash Acquisition Beyond Life Expectancy”, in other words it is a synonym to the word stash, but is more elaborate and refers to a supply of yarn so large that it is comparable to the stock of a yarn store or perhaps a warehouse. SABLE could also be related to the word stable, as a sable is large enough to be stored comfortably within a stable.
When thinking about a toad many of us consider a not so appeasing creature that is covered in warts. That may not be what a TOAD is in the acronym’s Camille used, but it is pretty close to what TOAD means. A TOAD is what one would call a “Trashed Object Abandoned in Disgust”. She referred to a headband she had just knitted, that ended up more like a cowl, as being a TOAD – while I had my own idea involving a mohair sweater I couldn’t even frog due to the amount of work already completed.
Complex Derivations within Knitter’s Lingo
Complex Derivations are when there are multiple levels of word structure. You could have 2, 3, or more levels of the word and the word will generally have 2 or more affixes to it.
Bistitchual, to knitters, is the ability to knit in both the continental and English styles of knitting. This is a feat for most knitters and those who are able to knit in both fashions are held in high esteem. The word is made up of the base verb stitch. The noun bi, meaning two, is added to the beginning to mean the knitter can stitch in both ways, while the –ual affix is added to the end as it pertains to how the knitter is stitching.
Ambistitcherous is a complex derivation, but is also a blending of the words ambidextrous and stitch. The word is quite the same to bistitchual and means the knitter is able to knit in the two different styles, but can also do both of them at the same time (as when doing color work or stranded knitting when you are using two colors of yarn to create a design in the pattern).
Ultimately, the terms discussed within this paper can be used by only knitters, but many of them may also be used by those who crochet, weave, spin yarn or create other crafts. I have found myself in yarn shops, quilting shops, in random aisles of multi-craft stores, where I have heard some of these terms used in relation to almost any craft out there. I oftentimes find myself using many of these terms, having been within the knitting world for over 12 years and working at a yarn shop for the past 3 years. Recognition of these words and phrases will be more noticeable to those who participate within the craft, but they will doubtfully ever be released to the general public as known words and acronyms that are used in common speech. Primarily they are a fun way for knitters (and crocheters) to interact with one another using their own secret language others may not quite understand.
Camille: The half-lives of a relationship are the same amount of time it takes to knit a sweater – why would she do that? It’s the friggin’ sweater curse.
Camille: I have so many wips right now I may have to rip some of them to use the extra yarn for boutiques.
Camille: I had so much yarn barf this morning I ended up having to wind my own ball.
Camille: One day I want to be bistitchual.
Camille: I had the worst toad this week – that friggin’ headband I made is a hideous cowl.
Camille: You have a sable in your back bedroom you need to destash before the baby comes (telling me this).
Camille: (laughing) You should see my frog pond of wips.
Camille: I need to show you the skank I bought last weekend.
Camille: Speaking of being ambistitchual – I want to be ambistitcherous so I can get my stockings done faster.
O’Grady, W., Archibald, J., Aronoff, M., & Rees-Miller, J. (2010). Morphology: The Analysis Of Word Structure. Contemporary Linguistics An Introduction (Sixth Edition). Boston: Bedford St. Martin’s.