This idea got interesting for many of us when it made meaty predictions, like the "unidirectionality hypothesis", namely that things can go from being less grammatical to being more grammatical but not the other way around: Prefixes and suffixes cannot, it is claimed, become independent lexical words. But good examples of this exist, like the way adjectival -ish has become a word meaning something like 'sort of, kind of, but not really or exactly', like in this made-up example:
Is he rich?I think these things are popping up everywhere right now in English, usually in sort of playful usage — which is how I interpret the -ish story. If they are blossoming all over, it's pretty well fatal to unidirectionality, but that remains to be seen. A contributor to this blog just passed me an example so wonderful that I have to give it here, from Martha Ratliff at Wayne State, heard on NPR a couple years ago:
My favorite liberation story: I heard an athlete on a girl's high school basketball team in Nebraska say, in a response to being called a "Huskette" (the boy athletes are "Huskies"): "I am not an ette! I never have been and never will be an ette!"It works really well because ette has a very clear meaning here, 'girl athlete' and pretty clearly inferior to males. And of all team names, the Huskies don't lend themselves to a women's team. Plus a young woman who's serious about her round ball is truly not an ette, not in a day when she could be thinking about college scholarships and turning pro. But it's even cooler for the name — degrammaticalization is awkward as a term, liberation is far better.
Reminds me of the old slogan: Free the bound morpheme!
Image of (real) huskies from here.