Posted by Neal on October 5, 2006
A thread on the Eggcorn Forum talks about a puzzling phrase some of the participants have seen: the war wages on. One poster speculates that the war-related verb wage is an eggcorn for rage; others think it’s an idiom blend of wage war and the war rages. Either of those is a possible explanation, but neither of them is the first one that occurred to me. The war rages on reminded me of a time about five years ago, when — oh, wait a minute… [harp music, wavy screen]
As I was saying, a time about five years ago, when Doug wasn’t yet embarrassed to watch the Wiggles. On their first videotape, there’s a song called “Ponies.” As six or seven tween-age girls dressed in pony suits prance in front of the Wiggle known as Jeff, he sings:
Watching the ponies galloping home.
Their tails in the air go swish, swish, swish;
Their hooves are making [clopping sounds]
As they ride home to
The choreography has the pony-girls turning around just in time to swish their backsides at the audience for the swish, swish, swish part, while Jeff looks on with his creepily cheerful smile. But nevermind that; what I wondered was: What were the ponies riding, or riding on, or riding in? And how can you ride something while you’re galloping?
I think what’s happened is that certain speakers have taken the causative-of-induced-action alternation seen in some verbs, and extended the pattern with ride:
I walk the dog; the dog walks.
I run the machine; the machine runs.
I fly the airplane; the airplane flies.
I ride the ponies; the ponies .
That is, they mistook ride for a verb like walk, which can mean “cause to walk.” Ride as a transitive verb, then, is taken to mean “cause to ride,” and ride as an intransitive verb is then forced to mean “to locomote while being non-human”. Here are a few other examples I found:
- The top 15 horses rode in the Final, held Sunday in the main arena before the Grand Prix Freestyle.
- Ponies ride in the clouds, go on a waterfall slide and more
- When the Horses Ride By: Children in the Time of War
The process by which walk, run, crash and other verbs are turned into causative versions of themselves without any kind of prefix or suffix (or anything else that would change how they sound) is an example of conversion or zero-derivation.
But wait — with ride, it was the causative version that came first, and the unusual non-causative meaning that came later. That is, the zero-derivation went in the opposite direction as it did for the other verbs. My friends, do you realize what this means? Yes! It’s a backformation! Not a backformation where a prefix or suffix is stripped away, but where nothing at all is undone! A zero-backformation, if you will. It’s also happened with drive: original transitive meaning, “cause to move”; re-interpreted with causative meaning, “cause to drive”; new intransitive meaning, “to move while being a motorized vehicle”, as seen in the following examples:
- Actually his findings were that cars drove closer to him when he was wearing a helmet.
- Just on the other side of the patio wall, two classic cars drove up.
- Cars drive by the east side of the Capital Building which is proctected by cement barriers
I think the same kind of zero-backformation is what has happened with wage in the war wages on. If you wage the war, then the war wages, and the new intransitive meaning for wage is “to occur and involve violence”.