What is the meaning of the -core suffix?
July 8, 2015 6:13 PM   Subscribe

In words like normcore, krishnacore, and all the words on this list, what do you think the meaning of the suffix -core is? What do you think people are trying to signify by adding -core to the end of words? Also, can you think of other examples of words that end in -core?

I ask because I'm trying to make an argument about the word hurtcore, which is a type of illegal porn that features actual rape, torture, and sexual abuse, as opposed to the consensual sex featured in S&M and BDSM. I'm trying to argue that the presence of the suffix -core in the term hurtcore influences how people think and feel about that type of porn. I don't want to tell you exactly what my argument is, because I don't want that to influence your answers. I'm not writing an article or an academic research paper or any other kind of formal writing. I just want to be able to make informal arguments in online forums and in casual conversation.

I tried looking up what -core meant, but other than being told that it originated from the word hardcore I didn't get very far. I understand that this is slang, but the fact that native English speakers use it so often to modify English words means there must be some kind of meaning, even if it doesn't have a strict definition.
posted by sam_harms to Writing & Language (24 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Like you say, it's by analogy from hardcore. It doesn't really communicate anything other than a type, or genre, or sub-category.

It's very similar to cyberpunk, steampunk, seapunk, solarpunk and new wave, no-wave, vaporwave, chillwave in that regard. An original genre, or type, or category of art or entertainment is created, and a bunch of other categories mimic the initial word.

I suppose with "core" there is still a shred of meaning of the original word "core" in there, as in center, or essence, in that whatever comes before the -core suffix is supposed to be the central defining feature of the genre or category.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 6:18 PM on July 8, 2015 [7 favorites]

Etymologically, it comes from French "Coeur," meaning heart. I think that's pretty instructive.

If your search for the term hardcore on the same site as linked above, you'll see the term was a not-flattering term used by economists and sociologists in the early 20th century to refer to unemployables. Strange. That term predates the pornographic usage.
posted by Sunburnt at 6:21 PM on July 8, 2015 [6 favorites]

There's a discussion of the etymology of "hardcore" on the Straight Dope messageboard. Their best guesses (backed up by the OED) are that it was originally a literal description of a solid center or underlayer, e.g. in masonry or construction more generally. This was extended metaphorically to refer to the "tough and intractable" part of anything, for example, the obdurately jobless as opposed to those who are merely temporarily unemployed.
posted by pullayup at 6:25 PM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

It originates from hardcore, but the actual word "hardcore" and not necessarily "hardcore porn". In my mind, at least, it's a one-word snowclone for music genres, riffing off of the term "hardcore music" or "hardcore punk", e.g., crunkcore, mathcore, metalcore, queercore, grindcore, etc.
posted by unknowncommand at 6:27 PM on July 8, 2015 [12 favorites]

Yeah, there were a lot of offshoots of mid-80s hardcore punk that used the -core suffix: emocore, homocore, grindcore. I think that's where it originated.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:31 PM on July 8, 2015

I agree with unknowncommand's answer; I saw it spring up as winking variants of "hardcore" the music genre in the mid-to-late-90s. I never saw it as a suffix prior to that time. I believe that is its origination as a suffix, just as -gate only became a suffix with Watergate.
posted by Greg Nog at 6:33 PM on July 8, 2015 [4 favorites]

Ah! A&C is correct that it came earlier than mid-90s, but still has its origination-point in "hardcore" the music genre.
posted by Greg Nog at 6:34 PM on July 8, 2015

Per Jon Mitchell and ArbitraryAndCapricious most of the example in the linked page are musical genres which have a tradition using naming variations for musical variations.

There's also -step: dubstep, chillstep, darkstep, hardstep and -hop: hip-hop begat trip-hop and glitch-hop and -house and -tronica and so on.

At any rate, the term "hardcore" has been used as a synonym for "tough" for a long time. And the pattern of using variant names has been around for a while as well.

Whenever I heard X-core I assume it's harkening back to hardcore. And hardcore of course has a long history in pornography. And modern pornography, like electronic music, has sufficient variety that people seek to label subgenres.
posted by GuyZero at 6:35 PM on July 8, 2015

It looks like it mostly took off in the 70s. Don't miss the "search inside google books" by era at the bottom, either. It looks like the earliest uses were mostly as a (very cool) surname.
posted by ropeladder at 6:44 PM on July 8, 2015

I think the reason why its use is disturbing in this instance is that it rebrands a horrendous crime as just another flavour of hipster aesthetic. Like calling a serial killer a collector of artisanal cadavers.
posted by dontjumplarry at 6:51 PM on July 8, 2015 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: Hmmm....looking through these answers, it strikes me that my argument relies less on the actual meaning of the suffix, and more on how people feel when they see it used. That's a bit harder to pin down. I guess I have a lot to think about....
posted by sam_harms at 6:51 PM on July 8, 2015

Ah ha! I knew there was a term for it: libfix, a term for when the affixes of words become liberated from their beginnings, as in -aholic or -gate. Click on that link. It gives a pretty thorough discussion of -core and the evolution of its meaning.
posted by MsMolly at 6:58 PM on July 8, 2015 [24 favorites]

If I saw the word "hurtcore" without context I'd probably assume it was a punk genre that involved self-harm while performing. I probably would not think of porn at all -- hardcore and softcore are the only pornography words I know of that use the -core suffix. But if I saw it in a porn context I don't think I'd be confused or think of music in any way.

According to Google Trends, "hurtcore" was coined sometime in February or March 2011, and is being searched in fairly steady numbers. It's totally dwarfed by searches for "snuff porn", "rape porn", and "extreme porn", and all three of those are holding steady or rising. I'd look for more codewords or euphemisms but I don't know any and trying to find more was unfruitful.
posted by clorox at 7:08 PM on July 8, 2015

This is a data point of one but...

When my sister wants to tell me that she thinks I will enjoy a book/movie because it hits on themes/styles/plots/characters that I have really enjoyed in other books/movies, she'll call it "Lucindacore".
posted by Lucinda at 7:34 PM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Hmmm....looking through these answers, it strikes me that my argument relies less on the actual meaning of the suffix, and more on how people feel when they see it used.

As a linguist, I give you permission to do so.

For example, etymologically, there's a "two" buried in twilight (between two lights), twine (two pieces of string wrapped around each other), and twin (two people born at the same time). Or, for a more recent example, the "gate" in all of these things etymologically goes back to "Watergate", but now it's just used to mean "scandal about X".

But most speakers don't know or really think about about the original etymology of the tw in twilight or, increasingly, the "gate" in whatever political standard of the day, because most speakers aren't historical linguists. If people in "hurtcore" think about the -core as meaning a certain thing, that's what it means to them, regardless of what the etymology is.
posted by damayanti at 7:41 PM on July 8, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Just a note on porn, too - most porn genres do not have "core" in them in any way. They tend to be descriptions of who's performing - MILF, twink, couples, that kind of thing - or the acts performed themselves - anal, creampie, threesome, often put together. MILF threesomes, twink creampie, that kind of thing.

The -core root seems to have come out of music. Being hardcore in underground and alternative music tends to denote a loyalty and almost obsessive fondness for the genre, or to describe really serious, fully immersed artists. So, if I had someone described as a hardcore rivethead, it would tell me that they were really, really into industrial music (SHOWING MY AGE A BIT BUT HEY) and who probably was into the earliest and most extreme examples of the genre.

I don't know what argument that you're having, but it sounds like the term was coined by someone outside the industry, as the closest thing to "hurtcore" you get in porn is some of the really hardcore gonzo stuff. It's like the term originated from someone who wanted to convey that they were really, really serious about pain and degregation but who lacked the vocabulary of conventional porn. Like, what you describe is kind of covered by the blacker fringes of gonzo and BDSM.
posted by Jilder at 9:58 PM on July 8, 2015 [3 favorites]

I thought the suffix -core meant "The heart of this thing". So if something is hardcore, at it's core, it's hard. That's the best way to describe it, the most important thing you need to know, the heart of the matter. It took off for other genres because it's a good, clear, understandable way to describe something as big as a whole genre.
posted by bleep at 10:13 PM on July 8, 2015

At least in relation to the vast family tree that one can trace from "hardcore", I don't think the core is significant at all, except as a method of linking back to some other member of the tribe. e.g. B-core is like A-core, except with more B. Though in some cases (similar to Hip-Hop / Trip-Hop, a case might be made that the variant to no-longer contains any sort of critical mass of the "parent genre."
posted by Jack Karaoke at 10:55 PM on July 8, 2015

I think you've got three overlaps here:

1) the original slang term "hardcore" meaning "the most committed follower/an example of a theme most adherent to the traits of that genre"

2) the slang adjective was then commonly paired with "porn" to denote the more graphic types of material (and eventually spawning the antonym "soft core")
3) hardcore was also applied as an adjective to a particular sub-genre of punk. This sub genre became popular and spawned its own offshoots and derivatives, with -core deployed as a suffix to indicate their connection to the original hardcore movement

What you're seeing with hurtcore is someone taking the well-established music-subgenre-naming rule and trying to apply it to porn sub genres.
posted by maggiepolitt at 11:24 PM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Etymologically, it comes from French "Coeur," meaning heart.

-core = to the heart. Or, likewise, "to the bone."
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:07 AM on July 9, 2015

Response by poster: Being hardcore in underground and alternative music tends to denote a loyalty and almost obsessive fondness for the genre, or to describe really serious, fully immersed artists.

Just a note on porn, too - most porn genres do not have "core" in them in any way.

Yeah, most porn genres don't, which is why the presence of -core in hurtcore seemed significant to me. To me it seemed to designate hurtcore as not just another genre, but as a real identity. It gives the impression that there's a community or a movement behind it, which gives it the air of legitimacy. That legitimacy obscures the fact that it's actual people being actually violated and abused, diminishes their suffering, and therefore diminishes the guilt felt by the people who view hurtcore porn. That makes it easier for them to feel okay about viewing it, and perhaps makes outsiders less likely to judge them for it. There's just something about that -core suffix that makes it seem edgy and forward thinking, like folks in that movement are just one step ahead of the rest of us. That says a lot about how people who view and make that kind of porn see themselves and what they're doing. That's particularly frightening, consider what this pornography actually consists of.

But like a couple folks have pointed out, the term hurtcore, like the term normcore, kind of came and went, so maybe there isn't much of an issue to discuss here anymore.
posted by sam_harms at 10:44 AM on July 9, 2015

Perhaps "hurtcore" is playing off the sound of the word "hardcore"? And assuming that the sound will link it back to the porn meaning?
posted by fiercecupcake at 1:04 PM on July 9, 2015

That's an interesting hypothesis but I'm not sure I buy it. "Hardcore/softcore porn" are terms that go way back and definitely just imply a broad categorization - genital penetration or no - rather than a community. "Hurtcore" reads to me as a play on "hardcore" that acknowledges depravity - though you might argue with a bit of an unsettling wink to it. Is this from that Cracked article that was linked here about tracking Internet pedophiles? I was struck by the use of the word there and I can't recall having heard it before.

Compared with -core as a snowclone for music genres->core as a snowclone for subcultures->core as a snowclone for trends in whatever I think it's a divergence from an originally parallel evolution.
posted by atoxyl at 11:07 PM on July 9, 2015

Knowing nothing about the actual origin or community, my first instinct in hearing "hurtcore" described is that the name was picked because with the right accent it sounds like "hardcore" when you say it out loud, and it isn't copying any naming convention in pornography.
posted by idiopath at 9:23 AM on August 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

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