Trigger-happiness

by jimwood8

I was talking with Einar Freyr Sigurðsson yesterday about the English suffixal use of -happy, as in trigger-happy, in the context of translating an Icelandic word we came across, skotgleði, which is a root compound made up of skot ‘shot’ and gleði ‘joy’. (I realize this might be analyzed as a compound, but I will continue to refer to it as suffixal.) The uses are very similar; someone who is trigger-happy is not necessarily happy, they are just quick to pull the trigger. Icelandic has a similar use of the adjective glaður ‘happy/glad’, so someone can be skotglaður (which seems very close to ‘trigger-happy’) without being glaður ‘happy’.

For me, this use of -happy in English is very productive, in that I can form probably an unlimited number of words like X-happy, generally with X being a noun or nominal root (gun-happy, power-happy, rug-happy, car-happy, book-happy, etc.). That is not to say it is unconstrained; it is actually quite odd, at best, for me to say shot-happy to refer to the property of being eager to shoot. (It is perfect for someone who loves to take shots of alcohol, however.) But it seems quite productive. Urban dictionary has examples of suffixal –happy which suggest its productivity as well, such as delete-happy and click-happy:

1. delete-happy 5 up2 down
adj. Refers to a forum moderator (mod) or someone in a similar position that deletes posts excessively. Often, the posts in question were perfectly valid, and so “delete-happy” reflects an abuse in power, a want to censor a particular viewpoint, or both.
Etymology: From the phrase “trigger-happy” that means “to pull the trigger of a gun excessively” or any metaphorical derivations of thus.
The delete-happy mod completely removed the valid topic about abortion.
2. click-happy 22 up7 down
Going crazy with the mouse cause your PC doesn’t respond fast enough to your liking causing:
  1. the PC to be even slower
  2. opening a thousand applications
  3. moving folders and files to god knows where
(a common mistake amongst not-so-PC-literate users)
derived from the word trigger-happy
Getting click-happy aint gonna make your PC speed up.

There are many others (some of them quite amusing).

But my initial impression was that in English, it is not so easy to form nouns. I can talk about someone who is too gun-happy, meaning that they are too obsessed with guns, but it is very odd for me talk about their “gun-happiness”. On further reflection, though, I started to think that some cases of this, maybe, aren’t so bad. “Trigger-happiness” seems possible, for example, and this is confirmed by some examples from the web:

  1. This kind of trigger-happiness, I suggested last month, appears to be rooted in the fact that many guides in Alaska have not focused intently on the challenge of following up wounded dangerous game. (source)
  2. To members of the cartel, he was known as “Mr. Bullet” for his gun collection and his trigger happiness. (source)
  3. Parsons attempted to justify his trigger happiness as humanitarian in nature. (source)
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