Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Archive for the ‘Gerunds and participles’ Category

Gerund + Proper Noun = Title Cliche

Posted by Neal on September 8, 2010

Yesterday Glen tweeted:

“Saving Grace.” “Raising Hope.” “Running Wilde.” How about we have just one show called “Gerund plus Proper Noun w/ Double Meaning”?

Amen, brother! I’ve been noticing titles like these for about a dozen years. In the late 1990s, it seemed to me that there were a heck of a lot of titles fitting this pattern, like Chasing Amy or Saving Private Ryan. But when I thought back on it, I could remember seeing titles like Eating Raoul or Crossing Delancey on video store shelves back in the 1980s. Some titles that I’ve been recording in this draft entry for a couple of years, as well as others I’ve remembered:

  • Eating Raoul (1982)
  • Crossing Delancey (1988)
  • Driving Miss Daisy (1988)
  • Becoming Colette (1991)
  • Boxing Helena (1993)
  • Leaving Las Vegas (1997)
  • Chasing Amy (1997)
  • Saving Private Ryan (1998)
  • Becoming Mozart (1998)
  • Being John Malkovich (1999)
  • Finding Forrester (2000)
  • Saving Grace (2000)
  • Saving Silverman (2001)
  • Finding Nemo (2003)
  • Being Julia (2004)
  • Finding Neverland (2004)
  • Raising Helen (2004)
  • Taking Woodstock (2009)

If these aren’t enough for you, you can use this movie title generator to create more gerund+proper noun titles.

I’ve tried using IMDB to search for titles like these to see if this increase was just my imagination, or the Recency Illusion, but inconveniently, the database isn’t tagged with parts of speech. All I can do is search for “ing,” which brings up lots of irrelevant stuff like everything or sting, or search for actual gerunds that occur to me. For example, saving is pretty popular. Also, there are so many movies each year, even if you don’t include TV movies and foreign movies (which IMDB does) that the difficulty of doing such a search quickly exceeds the tolerance threshold for a blog post.

Now Glen also mentions “double meaning”, but this only happens with verbs that are both transitive and intransitive. Running Wilde could be interpreted as “Wilde, in a state of running” if you take running to be the present participle of the intransitive verb run, modifying Wilde. Or it could be taken as “the action of making Wilde run”, if you take running to be the gerund form of the transitive verb run, taking Wilde as a direct object. I can tell that title-writers think it’s unbelievably clever when they manage to do this, but most of the titles I listed above aren’t ambiguous. Saving Private Ryan can only mean “the action of saving Private Ryan” — unless you allow that it could mean “Private Ryan, who is frugal and saves his money”, but that wouldn’t be the same kind of ambiguity that Glen is talking about.

If anyone can enlighten us as to why these kinds of movie titles are so popular, and whether they truly are more popular than they used to be, I look forward to reading your comments. Additional gerund+proper name titles are, of course, welcome, too.

Posted in Ambiguity, Gerunds and participles | 29 Comments »

More Coordinated Gerunds with Shared Direct Objects

Posted by Neal on June 28, 2010

In my last post, I wondered why this sentence had a plural verb instead of a singular:

…collecting and displaying pristine playthings wreak havoc on their fragile psyches.

At the end of the post, I was wondering if you got singular agreement as a rule when coordinated gerunds (e.g. collecting and displaying) shared a direct object (here, pristine playthings). Clearly it doesn’t for Nick Chordas (the writer of that sentence), or maybe for whoever edited the copy, but in my grammar, that verb needs to be singular. The alternative hypothesis is that coordinated gerunds that share a direct object (or an adverb or what have you) work the same as coordinated gerund phrases that don’t share direct objects. Specifically, you get a singular or a plural verb depending only on context: Is the speaker considering the activities to be a single, complex activity, or separate activities?

In a comment on the last post, Dominik Lukeš brought up these examples:

Running and swimming *is/are great cardiovascular activities.
Running and swimming really does/do improve your cardiovascular fitness.

In the first example, running and swimming are clearly considered individually (as given away by the plural predicate nominative cardiovascular activities), and the verb must be plural. In the second example, either singular or plural is grammatical, though with different meanings. With the singular, it might be the case that running or swimming alone would not improve your cardiovascular fitness; the claim is that doing both is what brings the benefit.

His opinion about coordinated gerunds with a shared direct object is that the syntax will demand singular agreement; semantics doesn’t come into play. To get some additional data on the matter, I went to the Corpus of Contemporary American English and searched for other examples. It’s easy to look for two gerunds connected by and: You just ask for “[vvg] and [vvg]”. But to find those with a shared direct object is trickier. If the direct object is a pronoun, the search “[vvg] and [vvg] [p*]” will bring them in. The search “[vvg] and [vvg] [nn*]” will bring in those that are followed by a noun, such as sending and receiving e-mail, but not those that are followed by a multi-word noun phrase, such as finding and destroying every Justin Bieber poster. The search “[vvg] and [vvg] the” will bring in a few more: Those followed by NPs starting with the, such as designing and building the solar dream houses.

In addition to not pulling in some of the relevant examples that might be in the corpus, these searches will bring in a lot of trash. First of all, the search program can’t tell whether the coordinated gerunds are the subject of a sentence (what we’re looking for), or an object of a verb or a preposition. Nor can it tell whether a direct object following two gerunds belongs to both of them, or just the last one (as in kissing and holding hands). Furthermore, the part-of-speech tags in this corpus don’t distinguish between gerunds and present participles, so some irrelevant hits like rising and falling curves get pulled in.

Even so, these searches did bring in a couple of dozen good examples. First, those that took a singular verb:

Coordinated gerunds, shared direct object, singular verb

  1. Health experts say that losing and regaining weight rapidly creates more than psychological problems.
  2. But buying and selling stocks is never an easy proposition for fund managers.
  3. Not surprisingly 98 percent of users say that sending and receiving e-mail is their top activity online
  4. Sending and receiving e-mail is by far the most common activity on the Internet,
  5. Sending and receiving e-mail is an easy habit to form because it’s so effortless.
  6. Making and keeping friends for boys this age is the same as practicing how to be a young man.
  7. I guess aiding and abetting the GOP wish for “failure” is more important than helping one’s citizens who are unemployed.
  8. For instance, opening and closing the lips with the tongue flattened allows a baby to say ” baba.
  9. Entering and leaving the house is a particularly high-risk activity,
  10. so raising and lowering the basket is fast and easy — even for young kids.
  11. Comparing and contrasting the various offender types is illuminating.
  12. For the 20 American and European colleges that made the finals, designing and building the solar dream houses was only half the challenge.
  13. Maintaining and improving the nation’s aging bridge infrastructure system is a priority for transportation authorities.
  14. Additionally, developing and maintaining the uniform procedures and policies required by government agencies becomes easier when one hires and trains specialists.
  15. Interpreting and understanding the enigmatic Fremont is even more complicated because they were not one clearly defined group.
  16. But creating and maintaining the GIWW, plus the Brownsville and Harlingen ship channels, has taken a heavy toll on the flats….
  17. As a result, establishing and maintaining the quality and uniformity of practice is a significant issue yet to be resolved
  18. Identifying and analyzing the sources of family stress has been a dominant research theme
  19. Removing and replacing the bacterium’s DNA is another major obstacle.
  20. Removing and replacing the rear wheel seems like a no-brainer until you try to do it without mucking up your hands, legs, clothing, and frame.
  21. Maintaining and expanding the multilateral trading system is essential for world growth.
  22. Analyzing and understanding the findings in terms of statistical significance, especially at the level of a local high school, and then applying the results to a broader audience is another process in which the Diplomate can provide consultation.

And now, those that took a plural verb:

Coordinated gerunds, shared direct object, plural verb

  1. Both receiving and giving support were related to negative affect after controlling for the effects of extraversion
  2. In addition, both receiving and giving support were correlated negatively with psychological symptoms.
  3. Interpreting and understanding the continuum of port-landscape evolution at one node of the global transportation system are possible only with reference to the production system of which that port constitutes one element. [ew, sounds bad]
  4. Second, monitoring and evaluating the quality of outputs are both retrospective (after the fact) and prospective (before the fact) — poor quality can be prevented.

So it looks like coordinated gerunds with a shared direct object are usually singular. But is that a syntactic fact, or is it just that usually when gerunds share a direct object, the speaker is considering several actions to be part of a single activity and overrides the plural agreement? Most of the examples with a singular verb could be seen as single activities. However, two of the items supports the idea that the syntax requires a singular subject for coordinated gerunds with a shared direct object. Look at item 9: Entering and leaving the house is a particularly high-risk activity. Unless we’re talking about an activity consisting of entering and leaving the house, this sentence is clearly talking about separate events. I checked the context for this one, and it was. And it still took a singular! And it sounded OK, unlike the example from the movie review! The same goes for item 10: raising and lowering the basket is fast and easy.

But if we say that coordinated gerunds with a shared direct object are syntactically singular, now we have to say something about when they take a plural verb. Presumably, this would happen only when it was clear that the activities were being considered individually, not collectively. Notice that two of the four examples use the correlative conjunctions both … and, which explicitly tells you the coordinated items are to be considered individually — and they sound grammatical to me. The remaining two examples have a plural verb, but you know what? They sound terrible to me, just like Nick Chordas’s sentence.

So in my grammar, at least, it looks like coordinated gerunds with a shared direct object are singular by default, and plural only in appropriate contexts. As for the people who wrote the sentences I found questionable, either their grammar is different from mine, or they or an editor got confused and second-guessed their choice of verb number. What do you think? Would you use singular or plural verbs the same as they’re used in these CoCA examples?

Posted in Gerunds and participles, Semantics, Syntax | 9 Comments »

Collecting and Displaying Playthings

Posted by Neal on June 25, 2010

Last weekend we went to see Toy Story 3, and I recommend it to everyone. What I like about the Pixar movies is that even though they start with an unrealistic premise (toys that live, monsters that use closet doors as teleportation devices, superheroes), the movies follow, delight in, and exploit their internal logic. In this respect, TS3 was just as clever and funny as the first two, although I understand some weirdos cried while watching it.

Anyway, the linguistically interesting item came not from the movie itself (though I welcome your observations in the comments), but Nick Chordas’s review in The Columbus Dispatch. At one point he compares it to Toy Story 2, which, he wrote, showed how

…collecting and displaying pristine playthings wreak havoc on their fragile psyches.

That plural verb wreak brought me up short. At first I thought, “Ah, it looks like that plural direct object playthings confused Mr. Chordas into making a plural verb.” The real subject, of course, would be the gerund that takes playthings as a direct object. I looked back in the sentence to find it again: displaying. But then I saw that there were two gerunds, joined by an and, both laying claim to this one direct object: collecting and displaying. So maybe Chordas was right to make the verb plural. In that case, why did the plural form sound so strange to me?

For a while I was thinking it was because of the shared direct object. The structure would look like the one in the diagram below. In this diagram, I use the category NP/NP to indicate a noun phrase (NP) that is missing an NP. The reasoning goes like this: collecting playthings is a good NP; therefore, plain old collecting is an NP missing an NP (in this case, playthings). Both gerunds have the category NP/NP, and so the coordination of the two has this category.

But although the two gerunds are coordinated, by the time we’ve arrived at the entire phrase collecting and displaying playthings, it’s not a coordinate structure anymore. It’s a phrase that contains a coordinate structure down inside it. Therefore, I reasoned, the phrase should count as a singular.

However, that logic doesn’t hold up. I mean, look at these sentences:

The old man and woman were sitting at the table.
A picture and a recording of my grandfather are kept in this box.

In the first sentence, we have a singular man and the singular woman conjoined by and; in the second it’s a picture and a recording. (It could also be a picture and a recording of my grandfather, but I’m looking at the parse in which of my grandfather modifies both picture and recording.) But the coordinate structures man and woman and a picture and a recording aren’t the subjects of the sentences. They’re just elements within the subjects the old man and woman and a picture and a recording of my grandfather. So by the kind of reasoning I used for collecting and displaying playthings, these sentences should be

*The old man and woman was sitting at the table.
*A picture and a recording of my grandfather is kept in this box.

So if the factored-out direct object of collecting and displaying isn’t a reason to expect a singular verb, what was leading me to expect one? My next hypothesis was on semantic grounds. Maybe I had been expecting some notional agreement: That is, maybe I had been considering the collecting and displaying of playthings to be components of a single activity, in the same way that you might think of ham and eggs as a single dish and say Ham and eggs isn’t what I ordered.

So does a shared direct object for coordinated gerunds trigger notional agreement? In the next post, we’ll see…

Posted in Coordination, Gerunds and participles, Movies | 1 Comment »

When Awe Strikes

Posted by Neal on June 10, 2010

I stole this title, but more on that in a minute. I said in my last post that in my next one, I’d have more to say about whether who and what was found was a true case of VP ellipsis. I’m still looking into that, but in the meantime, Visual Thesaurus has published a column I wrote on the words awesome, awful, and awe, and I wanted to do a tie-in post here with some stuff that didn’t make it into the column.

Near the end of the column, I mention some alternatives to awesome that still have a primary meaning of something that induces fear. Some of the alternatives were awe-inspiring and awe-commanding. One that I didn’t put in was awe-striking.

Awe-striking? If you’re like me (or at least, if your mental grammar is like mine), this is your reaction to the participial adjective awe-striking. It’s just wrong. That was certainly the reaction of Laura in a post at Terribly Write–the very post, in fact, whose title I stole. (Thanks, Laura! Great title!)

But why is awe-striking so bad? It comes, of course, from the adjective awe-struck, which uses the past participle struck instead of the present participle striking. Compound verbal adjectives like this, following the Noun+Past_Participle pattern, usually have that noun referring to the agent of the action named by the verb. Let me illustrate. Take a look at this famous actor:

No doubt you will have noticed her bee-stung lips and wind-swept hair. In bee-stung, we are to imagine that a bee did the stinging. In wind-swept, the wind did the sweeping. Similarly, in awe-struck, awe did the striking.

But when you make a compound verbal adjective with the Noun+Present_Participle pattern, the noun doesn’t refer to the agent; it refers to the patient, as in heartbreaking. It can’t refer to the agent. That’s reserved for the noun the adjective modifies, or the subject of the sentence if the adjective finishes out a verb phrase headed by be. For example, man-eating tiger refers to a tiger that eats men, and This movie is heartbreaking means that the movie breaks hearts. For that reason, the adjective awe-striking suggests you can strike an intangible thing, awe, because it certainly can’t mean that awe does the striking.

Or can it? On a sudden suspicion, I Googled awe-striking, and found this page on Wordnik, with some examples as early as the 1800s, like this one from Mary Shelley:

Strange system! riddle of the Sphynx, most awe-striking! that thus man remains, while we the individuals pass away.

Wha–? How is this possible?

Here’s what I think now. For people like me, the awe in awe-struck refers to an agent, and therefore can’t participate in an adjective like awe-striking. However, some speakers think of the awe in awe-struck not as an agent, but an instrument. Awe doesn’t strike people; someone or something strikes someone else with awe. It works the same way as faith in faith-healing evangelist: The evangelist heals people (the patient) with faith (the instrument).

Even so, the precedent’s a bit shaky. I can get faith-healing evangelist, but hand-making ice cream artisan sounds like someone who makes hands out of ice cream, not someone who makes ice cream by hand. Steel-cutting oatmeal manufacturer sounds like an oatmeal manufacturer who, for whatever reason, likes to cut steel, not someone who makes oatmeal by cutting (oats) with steel.

If awe-striking is a part of your lexicon, let us know what it means to you. If not, why isn’t it?

Posted in Compound words, Gerunds and participles, Semantics | 11 Comments »

The Walking Trail

Posted by Neal on May 25, 2010

Another place we went on our trip two weekends ago was to Magee Marsh, on the shore of Lake Erie in northwestern Ohio, for the tail end of the Biggest Week in American Birding. Yes, there is a biggest week in American birding, Doug and his mother have learned during this past year. It’s the week of the peak of the warblers’ northern migration, as they stop to rest and feed at the shore of Lake Erie before continuing on to Canada. Doug and his mom actually went there the week before, and spent two days looking for birds and listening to talks about birds! Adam and I opted out of that trip. But now, a week later, Doug had read that a Kirtland’s warbler had been sighted at Magee Marsh after his visit, and he was hoping he could see it himself if he took another walk along the boardwalk there. At the trailhead there was this sign:

It reminded me of an error I’ve seen a few times in grammar books or discussions; for example this one. The question is: What part of speech is the word walking in the nominal walking trail? Some (like the author of the book I linked to above) seem to be following this line of reasoning:

  1. Adjectives modify nouns.
  2. Walking modifies the noun trail.
  3. (Invalid conclusion) Therefore, walking is an adjective.

This is like saying, “Dogs dig holes. The guy who’s putting in my swimming pool digs holes. Therefore, the guy who’s putting in my swimming pool is a dog.” The missing piece of information here is that nouns can modify nouns, too. Of course, there is crossover sometimes, when a noun modifier is reinterpreted as an adjective and treated accordingly (see fun and key).

So why not just say that anything that modifies a noun is an adjective? For one thing, you’ve just made it harder on yourself to distinguish between adjectives that can do things like have comparative and superlative forms or be modified by adverbs, and adjectives like walking, which can’t. (Well, you might be able to say “walkingest,” but it would have to refer to something that walks the most. You couldn’t say “the walkingest trail” to mean the trail that is best for walking.) For another, that leads to further reasoning like this:

  1. Verbal adjectives are participles.
  2. (Invalid premise) Walking is a verbal adjective.
  3. Therefore, walking is a participle.

So why is this conclusion bad? Well, now how are you going to explain the difference between a trail that walks and a trail for walking? How will you explain why walking trail in its intended, non-ridiculous meaning means the same thing as trail for walking, where walking is a noun (i.e. gerund)? Calling walking a gerund instead of a participle here is sloppy analysis.

Now lest you think I went all the way to Magee Marsh with my family, only to get carried away by grammar issues that the trail sign reminded me of, let me say that I did learn something about birds, and warblers in particular. I pronounce warble like this: [warbL]. (I’m using [L] to represent syllabic /l/, that is, /l/ that functions as a syllable.) But when I attach the –er suffix, the [L] stops being syllabic, and turns back into a true consonant, so that I pronounce warbler as two syllables: [warb.lR]. (Now I’m using [R] to represent syllabic /r/.) In more ordinary English spelling, I guess it’d be warb-ler. But when Doug says warbler, I was surprised to learn, he doesn’t un-syllabify that [L]. He pronounces it with three syllables: [warb.L.R]. In somewhat regular spelling, that would be warble-er. However, he did cop to shortening it to two syllables, the way I pronounce it, when he’s talking fast. How about that?

Posted in Gerunds and participles, Ohioana, Semantics, Syntax, The darndest things | 2 Comments »

Implicit Backformation?

Posted by Neal on February 21, 2008

I think it was the E-E-A sequence that caught my eye. I was sitting at a cafeteria table, looking at the stand-up card with a picture of a slice of pie on it. I’d pushed it out of the way with my tray when I sat down, but now that I’d been eating for a few minutes, my eye was drawn back to the card. Paying closer attention now, I saw that it wasn’t just an advertisement for the place’s desserts; it was an encouragement to get their desserts to go. It said:

Homeeat a homemade dessert.

Homeeat? There is no entry for homeeat or home eat in my Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, and I have yet to find any attestations of it online. The meaning was clear enough: to eat at home. But how had they formed the word?

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Backformation, Compound words, Food-related, Gerunds and participles | 7 Comments »

They Went Sightseeing, and I Underage Drank

Posted by Neal on April 21, 2007

It’s been a while since I’ve had anything to write about backformation, but Russell at Noncompositional reminded me of it with this post about the verb sightsee, backformed from the Noun+Gerund compound sightseeing. He observes that this verb can’t do all the things that a fully evolved verb can. Sure, you can say, “They’re sightseeing,” but can you have sightsee on its own, with no suffix, as in I like to sightsee, or We sightsee every weekend? Some people can, but how about the word in a finite form with a suffix (other than -ing) on it? Something like He sightsees when he travels? Not so good. And forget about the past-tense: wiith see having an irregular past-tense, sightsaw is just about impossible. Russell points to this posting by languagehat, where it is established that went sightseeing is the way to go when the past tense is needed.

The discussion reminded me of a post I wrote in 2004 about the verb underage drink, backformed from underage drinking/drinker. At the time, when I Googled the phrase underage drank, I got only 50-some hits. Now, though, that search pulls up at least 100 hits, including gems such as:

  • My parents knew when I underage drank. (link)
  • I SMOKED WEED AND UNDERAGE DRANK IN HIGH SCHOOL (link)
  • It’s not the store’s fault, the guy who bought the beer was of age, no one underage drank from the keg, the keg was self-serve and no one but the drunk is responsible. (link)

Underage drank is still very rare, but seems to be on the increase. It wins out over gone/went underage drinking, which gets only about 30 hits. Assuming underage drink can function as a verb in your grammar, how would you pit it into the past tense?

Posted in Backformation, Compound words, Gerunds and participles | 6 Comments »

Booger-Eating and Eating Boogers

Posted by Neal on April 19, 2006

A local alternative newspaper had this to say about the movie The Benchwarmers, which opened last weekend:

Why see this film? Maybe you think it’s fun to see adults beat children [at games], or maybe you like booger eating, bug eating, and projectile vomiting.
(Hope Madden, “A film only Adam Sandler could like,” The Other Paper, April 13-19, 2006, p. 25)

As I consider whether I should see this film, then, I must ask myself: Do I like booger-eating?

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Ambiguity, Compound words, Gerunds and participles | 3 Comments »

Serial-Killing vs. Serially Killing

Posted by Neal on January 15, 2005

A few posts back, I wrote the following sentence: “And declaring that one’s 20s are when one should commence one’s serial killing is downright heinous!” I had to rewrite that sentence a couple of times, because at first I kept wanting to say:

…when one should start serial killing…

I kept rephrasing because on the one hand I didn’t like using the chunk serial-kill as a verb that way, but on the other hand the phrasing one should start killing serially or one should start serially killing didn’t sound quite right either. In turning serial-kill into a verb, I realized I was stumbling over the same kind of reanalysis-plus-backformation I’ve written about before. Specifically, I was starting out with the compound noun serial killer (or gerund serial killing), with the following structure:

[serial [kill er] ]

Next came the reanalysis:

[ [serial kill] er ]

And the final analogy for the true backformation part of the process:

kill : [kill]er :: ? : [[serial kill]er]

If this process was going on in my head, I figured it might be going on in other people’s heads, too. So I did some searches to find out if serial-kill as a verb was out there, and how it compared to serially kill or kill serially.

The phrase I looked for was serial killed, since killed is unambiguously a verbal form (either past tense or passive participle), while in serial kill, serial kills, and serial killing, the form of kill was ambiguous between a verb and a noun. I got about 886 Google hits for the phrase. A lot of them seemed to be spellchecker-induced errors, with (I’m guessing) serial killes replaced by serial killed. But there were a number of clear cases of backformed serial-kill, such as these:

… and now the two of you are sitting pretty with a couple of unsuspecting well-behaved drifters sitting silently in the backseat just begging to be serial killed … (link)

The people that are serial killed now are usually guilty. (link)

TheJock, commenting on my away message – which when I go out with someone always instructs the reader to avenge my death should I dissapear or get serial killed … (link)

In addition to the above passive participial forms, I got a few past-tense ones:

Marlena, a big character from back in the day, had apparently gone crazy and serial killed a bunch of other main characters. (link)

Lee Wuornos being a prostitute who serial-killed about seven of her johns back in the 80s and … (link)

Hey, do you like the “Six Degrees of Rigor Mortis” game where you try to figure out how many people Bill & Hillary Clinton serial-killed? (link)

I got about 361 Google hits for serially killed, both participial and finite:

The following eMail we received reports the death of three perfectly good Zip drives being serially killed by a single killer cartridge: (link)

The British and worldwide societal structure decided to demonize Dennis, after it was revealed that he had serially killed numerous young men. (link)

For the first time in US history, a woman stands accused of having serially killed six adult male motorists, (link)

Interestingly, serially killed was often used in a strictly compositional sense, referring to killings that took place sequentially, not done by a serial killer. Most of these were from lab reports, as in:

The mice were then serially killed at the scheduled times to examine the development of hepatocellular carcinoma… (link)

But not all of them were. Here is a sentence talking about Osama bin Laden, certainly a killer, but not anyone’s idea of a serial killer:

we’re dealing with an individual who has led a military effort against the United States for ten years and has serially killed a significant … (link)

I didn’t find any of these usages for serial-killed, though of course I can’t say they’re not out there.

So using the backformed serial-killed seems to carry the extra meaning that a killing was not just one in a series, but that it was done by a serial killer. I can think of another reason that someone might use the backformed serial-killed rather than serially killed. Compare these sentences:

?He serially killed Kim.
He serial-killed Kim.
?Kim was serially killed.
Kim was serial-killed.

Serially killed sounds better when you’re talking about more than one victim. It doesn’t make sense to talk about a series of things when there’s only one member in the list. But what if you’re talking about a single victim (such as Kim) who was done in by a serial killer? Serial-killed seems to capture that meaning.

Posted in Backformation, Compound words, Gerunds and participles | 2 Comments »

Watch my Backformation, Part II

Posted by Neal on July 2, 2004

An additional datum for my earlier post on my favorite kind of backformation:

The sign said, “We price match anyone!”

Hypothesized steps in the development of price match as a verb:

  1. Compounding with a noun and gerund: price+matching
  2. Reassociation: [price [match ing]] –> [[price match] ing]
  3. Backformation: match : matching :: X : [price match]ing

And X = the new verb price match. The direct-object slot that would have been filled by price can now be filled by other direct objects, such as anyone.

AND ONE MORE…
Katie at The Resplendent Mango has provided another one. In this posting, she says that George W. Bush “does not fence sit”. Plug in fence, sit, and –er for price, match, and –ing above for the derivation of fence sit as a verb.

For more observations on new verbs, check out Katie’s comments on the verb fellowship, derived from the phonologically identical noun, in this post.

Posted in Backformation, Compound words, Gerunds and participles | 1 Comment »