Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

A Right-Node Wrapping; a Backformation; and a Double Passive Gone Wrong

Posted by Neal on May 17, 2007

Here are a few recently observed examples of things that I’ve talked about on numerous other occasions.

First, here’s one more right-node wrapping (aka “Friends in Low Places” coordination), from Monday’s episode of Fresh Air, in which Terry Gross interviews Dr. Melinda Merck, author of book on forensic veterinary medicine. Terry asks about one case:

What was her story, like why was she collecting so many cats and then either killing or allowing them to die? (13.23-13.30)

And also on the subject of veterinary medicine, here’s a backformation I heard at the vet’s office earlier today:

…and here’s his rabie tag; you’ll need to put that on him…

Rabies is a borrowing from Latin; in Latin, it’s a fifth declension noun, and -es is the nominative singular ending, not a plural marker. But in English, rabies has occasionally been interpreted as a plural noun. If it’s a plural noun in your lexicon, then you’ll need to strip off the –s to make it singular in order to form compounds such as rabie tag and rabie shot.

Lastly, here’s an attempt at a double passive that Glen noticed and brought to my attention. It may be that sentences such as The marshmallows were forgotten to be brought (meaning, “Someone forgot to bring the marshmallows”) are ungrammatical in your English. They’re not grammatical in mine, though it would be convenient if they were. But even though they’re not grammatical for me, they don’t quite sound like errors, either. This, though, sounds like an error:

“A lot of guys I know, actually, have become radicalized, or initially took the first steps towards learning more about Islam and their way of life as a result of them being tried to being forced to marry someone they don’t want to marry,” Butt tells Simon. (link)

It would have been better (though still not quite grammatical for me) if he’d said being tried to be forced. As for tried to being, not only is it not in my grammar, I’d bet it’s not in Butt’s grammar either.

2 Responses to “A Right-Node Wrapping; a Backformation; and a Double Passive Gone Wrong”

  1. […] in Literal-Minded: 2/21/08 A right-node wrapping, a backformation, and a double passive gone wrong (here) on rabie tag for rabies […]

  2. […] to reveal a backformation by talking about “one rabie” might well talk about attaching rabie tags to their pets’ collars. Similarly, in the October 5, 2012 issue of Entertainment Weekly, […]

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