• affordance •
Pronunciation: ê-ford-êns • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)
Meaning: 1. (Only in Cumberland, England) The amount someone can afford. 2. The function of something that is apparent from its appearance, a sensory clue as to the function of something, stimulus-response compatibility
Notes: It is easy to see that today's word is a derivative of the verb afford, but in a narrow sense of that word. It is at least theoretically based on the adjective affordant, which means "having a function that is readily apparent and available". A bar across a door has the affordance that it must be pushed to open the door. A knob is less affordant since it makes no such suggestion as to whether you pull it, push it or turn it.
In Play: Among the natural affordances are arrows, which simply indicate direction: left, right, up, down. But left- and right-pointing arrows on a website are specific: left-pointing means "go back" and right-pointing means "onward". This much we must learn. Natural affordances abound: "I'm not sure that I see the affordance Anita Job would bring to this company."
Word History: Today's word was introduced by James Gibson, in his 1977 article "The Theory of Affordances". Obviously, today's noun is a derivation of afford that has gone semantically awry. In Middle English it was spelled and pronounced aforthen, from Old English geforthian "to carry out", made up of ge- a perfective prefix + forthian "to further", from forth "forward". Although not common, the confusion of Ð [dh] with D in Middle English was not unheard-of. In fact, we have seen the confusion of Þ [th] with T recently in stalwart. Forth shares its origin with Latin portare "carry", origin of English porter and transport. It also developed into English fore, found in before, forefront, and forefather. (Hilde Jakobsen's affordance to our word-of-the-day series is obvious with this, her first recommendation of a Good Word.)