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What is a back-formation?

Back-formation (also written without the hyphen and also called inverse derivation) is a type of word formation by derivation, for example, "sculpt" or "donate" is formed from the existing words "sculptor" or "donation" by analogy with an established pattern, e.g., "act/actor." It is the formation of what looks like a root word from an already existing word which might be - but is not - a derivative of the former. Many times, people assume that a word like "sculpt" is the original word and "sculptor" is the derived word, but unless one checks a dictionary for the etymology, one cannot be so sure. Back-formation is usually done by reinterpreting an earlier word as a compound and removing the real or supposed affixes. A new, usually shorter, word is formed and it is often a different part of speech from the existing word. Back-formation is the name for both the process and the newly created term.

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