What Does the Exploitation Film Genre Have to do with Watergate? An Exploration of Libfixes

A few weeks ago, we discussed the core suffix in relation to the word mumblecore. Today we’re going to take a look at another robust suffix born on the silver screen, –sploitation.

While the term mumblecore stuck, another name suggested for this slow-paced genre didn’t quite catch on: ennuisploitation. The ennui element comes from the French word meaning “boredom,” though the perhaps more interesting part of the word is –sploitation. This final element nods to a larger cinematic category called “exploitation films.”

A brief history of exploitation films: this low-budget genre began in the late 1960s and early ’70s featuring films lacking moral value, often with high levels of violence and sex appeal. It grew out of the tradition of B-movies, which were cheaply filmed productions from the 1940s and ’50s, created purely to accompany high-budget films on double billings. Exploitation films, like B-movies, were money-making operations rather than artistic endeavors. However, some of these film concepts are so outrageous that they’ve garnered cult followings. Subgenres of exploitation films include sexploitation and blaxploitation. There’s even Canuxploitation and Britsploitation, which are exploitation films set in Canada and the UK, respectively. Perhaps the oddest subgenre is nunsploitation: this features stories of perverse and corrupt nuns set in the Middle Ages.

The list of subgenres goes on and on, maybe because of how easy it is to tack -sploitation, -xploitation, or -exploitatation on to the end of a word. This kind of combining form is called a libfix. This term itself is a portmanteau of lib(erated) + (af)fix, and was coined by linguist Arnold Zwicky. Other examples of libfixes include gate and -zilla, which are extracted, or liberated, from the terms Watergate and Godzilla, and are now added on to words to implicate a scandal or monster respectively. Mileygate might be used to describe the recent twerking incident, and bridezillas are brides who throw fits and generally act like monsters. Libfixes are more pliable than your traditional affix, and they often evoke a specific cultural reference.

While ennuisploitation has been overshadowed by the more prominent mumblecore, from a cinematic and linguistic perspective it’s a very appropriate term. Perhaps film and language buffs will champion this forgotten genre name as mumblecore gets more buzz and writers and speakers crave more variation in their language.