It’s official: The suffix -ish has replaced words such as around, almost, approximately, about, and somewhat. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary makes -ish official with this definition:
-ish: almost or approximately
Why say approximately or almost or somewhat when you can simply add –ish to any word or number? Anyone can use it as an extension to a word to allow room for interpretation. Maybe it’s lilac, but maybe it’s aubergine… so it’s purple-ish.
So what’s the big deal? For starters, it’s frankly non-committal. By freely adding-ish you’re not bound by specifics. Why express yourself fully or commit when you can have an out? –ish is your free pass. You don’t have to meet that 10:00 a.m. deadline if you said they’d have it by 10:00-ish.
If communication is at the core of who we are as humans, then whatever happened to – you have my word? Does that still apply to vague agreements like, “I promise to deliver that report by 3:00-ish?” We’ve lost the art in the art of communication in the rise of electronic communication, acronyms, and emojis.
For that very reason, I named my company ISH. I wanted to hold up the proverbial mirror to our society’s way of circumventing commitment in my own tongue-in-cheek way. The way we communicate has changed and no one seems to mind.
I recently came across an ad campaign by Henry’s Hard Soda with the slogan: LIVE HARD-ISH. As a marketer, I can respect a clever campaign. However, even their clever tagline is left to interpretation.
My takeaway from the billboard ad was that although their soda has alcohol, it’s a reasonable-ish mix of soda, alcohol, and cane sugar. But after visiting their website, I learned there was more meaning to the word “hard-ish”. The brand has a story: their founder, Henry Weinhard, lived a hard-ish life. “He won a lot of hard-earned success but still found time to have a lot of fun.”
I suppose their message is to live a happy medium. Straight alcohol is too hard, but soda isn’t hard enough. Have a good time, but focus on your work. Albeit this example is a marketing tactic where creative liberties are encouraged, if not expected.
–ish gives wiggle room to live life without extremes and also to live without committing to being any specific thing. Now that –ish has made its way into the dictionary, I’d venture to guess that it’s now ingrained in our culture. It’s here to stay.
But next time you’re inclined to tack on an –ish to get out of a true description or commitment, stop and remember that how we choose to communicate leaves a lasting impression. Challenge yourself to be specific, to commit, to be detailed, and more than anything, to say what you mean and mean what you say.
Without clear communication, everything is vague-ish, muddled-ish, and pointless-ish. Take my word for it.
Do you have examples of ish-related communications you’ve heard in your professional or personal life? If so, share in the comments below and tell us how it impacted you.
Michelle Mariola is founder & director of ISH-Productions, a Chicago-based branding and marketing company whose mission is to help emerging to mid-market companies develop their marketing strategies and brand identities.