Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

Archive for the ‘Gapping’ Category

Little Women: Gapping and Wrapping

Posted by Neal on March 7, 2012

Two posts ago, I wrote about a right-node wrapping that I found in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. It was this:

At the door her sisters seized and bore her to the parlor in a triumphal procession.

An ordinary transitive verb (seized) and a transitive followed by a directional prepositional phrase (bore … to the parlor) are coordinated, and share a single direct object, her. The V+PP bore … to the parlor wraps around this direct object, giving rise to a syntactically non-parallel coordination that, if phrased in a parallel manner, would probably be written

…her sisters [seized her] and [bore her to the parlor in a triumphal procession].

Tonight I was reading aloud some more of Little Women, and it occurred to me that Alcott really seemed to like using another kind of non-parallel coordination that I’ve blogged about a few times: gapping. This is a coordination of two or more clauses that have the same verb, but different subjects, and different content following the verb. In this kind of coordination, some or all of the verb is simply left out, just like a shared subject or shared direct object might be omitted from a more typical coordination. You can find other examples in the other posts in the Gapping category; here’s what I was noticing in Chapter 8 of Little Women:

  • Sitting on the floor with one boot on, Amy began to cry and Meg [began] to reason with her, when Laurie called from below, and the two girls hurried down, leaving their sister wailing.
  • Meg flew to rescue Amy, and Beth [flew] to pacify Jo, but Jo was quite beside herself….
  • Laurie had vanished round the bend, Jo was just at the turn, and Amy [was] far behind, striking out toward the smoother ice in the middle of the river.

Then, only a page or so after that last example (it’s hard to tell with the Kindle), I came to this sentence:

“She is not hurt, and won’t even take cold, I think, you were so sensible in covering and getting her home quickly,” replied her mother cheerfully.

I had to read that one twice. They covered her, and got her home. They didn’t cover her home and get her home. Wow — in one chapter, three cases of gapping, capped off with a right-node wrapping!

Posted in Books, Gapping, Right-node wrapping ("Friends in Low Places" coordinations) | 7 Comments »

There Was Supposed to Be a Gap!

Posted by Neal on July 2, 2010

In the newspaper yesterday, I read about the latest reboot of the Wonder Woman comic book, in an article by George Gene Gustines of the New York Times News Service. In sketching out the previous reboots, Gustines stated that are one point,

The character was then overhauled, her previous continuity erased, and ….

How will the sentence finish? It starts with a clause, The character was then overhauled, and continues with a clause missing the auxiliary verb was: her previous continuity erased. This is an example of a kind of coordination called gapping, which I wrote about in this post. So I’m expecting the last item in the coordination to be another clause with a gap instead of a was, like her hair color changed to red. I’d even accept it with a missing were instead of was; for example, her golden wristbands replaced with finger-activated web fluid dispensers. So let’s see how it ends:

The character was then overhauled, her previous continuity erased, and she starred in Volume 2 as a heroine new to the world.

She starred in Volume 2 as a heroine new to the world? An entire clause, complete with verb? What is this? It’s kind of like those multiple-level coordinations, like this one from Wikipedia’s article on Wonder Woman’s publication history:

She was beautiful, intelligent, strong, yet still possessed a soft side. (link)

Adjective, adjective, adjective, yet verb phrase. The adjectives are all part of a verb phrase that begins with was; the verb phrase still possessed a soft side is a verb phrase. But Gustines’s gapping sentence is different. The things he’s coordinating are all at the same level in the sentence: They’re all top-level clauses in the sentence. It’s just that one of them is missing its auxiliary verb. I don’t know if the analyses of gapping that are out there predict that you can do this.

Can you do it? How does the sentence sound to you?

Posted in Gapping, Multiple-level coordination | 6 Comments »

Picker Uppers and Putter Upper Withers

Posted by Neal on March 2, 2010

Back in January, Ben Zimmer wrote an “On Language” column for the New York Times magazine on the subject of crash blossoms. Near the beginning, he said:

In their quest for concision, writers of newspaper headlines are, like Robert Browning, inveterate sweepers away of little words, and the dust they kick up can lead to some amusing ambiguities.

I’m not going to talk about those ambiguities; you can read Zimmer’s article yourself for that. (Or my post on one of the featured crash blossoms.) What caught my attention was how Zimmer formed an agentive noun out of the phrasal verb sweep away. I’ve been wondering about how phrasal verbs get turned into agentive nouns, ever since it suddenly occurred to me that something that stands out is outstanding, but is not an *outstander. Or at least, not anymore: I found this citation in the OED from 1593:

outstander OED 1593
a1593 C. MARLOWE Ovids Elegies (?1600) III, Troy had not yet bene ten yeares siege out-stander, When nimph-Neæra rapt thy lookes Scamander.

Why don’t we have outstander anymore, or other phrasal verbs that put their particle in front to form an agentive? I guess there’s bystander and onlooker, but others are hard to come by.

Zimmer’s sweeper(s) away, meanwhile, follows the pattern of passer(s) by, with the particle coming after the verb but with the -er suffix interposed. Are there other phrasal verbs that follow this pattern? I can’t think of many, and even passer(s) by seems a bit archaic.

In contrast to [Particle]+[Verb]-er and [Verb]-er+[Particle], the most productive way of making agentives out of phrasal verbs these days seems to be the [Verb]-er+[Particle]-er pattern. The canonical example of this is undoubtedly picker upper, as made famous in commercials like this one. I found an article by Don Chapman of Brigham Young University, called “Fixer-uppers and passers-by: Nominalization of verb-particle constructions“, in Studies in the History of the English Language IV (2008, edited by Susan M. Fitzmaurice and Donka Minkova), and it confirmed by gut feeling about the picker upper as compared to the bystander or passer by patterns. He also studies the [Verb]+[Particle]-er pattern, as in pick-upper. Quoting from his conclusion:

Insofar as the citations from the OED accurately represent historical stages of English, we can first note that the picker-up pattern has historically been the most common nominalization of multi-word verbs, but that its use dropped off in the twentieth century. Second, the by-stander pattern occurred fairly commonly in past stages of English, but declined steadily through the centuries. Third, the picker-upper pattern appears to be a recent innovation, probably of the twentieth century. It is hard to say much about the pick-upper pattern, since it does not occur in the OED; its exclusion could mean that the construction is recent or that it is too unconventional to have shown up in the OED citations. Insofar as the internet type counts accurately represent present-day usage, we can note that the picker-up pattern continues to be used today, but not as much as the picker-upper pattern, which is the most popular pattern. The pick-upper pattern is robust today, as it occurs as much as the picker-up pattern.

Chapman includes two appendices. One gives a century-by-century listing of the agentive phrasal verbs he found in the OED, broken down by pattern. The other is an 11-page table of phrasal verbs, showing which agentive patterns he found for them (picker-up, picker-upper, pick-upper, bystander) when he searched for them in Google.

Before I found Chapman’s article, I did some OED-checking and Google-searching myself. When I searched the Google News Archive for picker upper, the earliest example I found was this one from Nov. 30, 1913, in the Chicago Tribune:

“For every [???],” remarked Mrs. Bumpweather, “there is a busy little picker-upper.”

The next hits aren’t until the 1930s, but there’s a steady stream of them from then onwards. The most interesting one I found (through Google Books) is this appalling example from 1939:

To prevent the valuable metal from going to waste, you will want to recover as many spilled droplets as you can. A convenient aid is a little homemade device that might be called a ‘mercury picker upper‘.
(Raymond B. Wailes, “Fun with Quicksilver”,
Popular Science, Apr 1939 – v. 134, no. 4)

So this morphological issue was on my mind when my wife had me put away some items on a high shelf for her. When I’d finished, she said, “You’re my putter upper!”

Putter upper, I thought. Not put-upper, not up-putter, not putter up. Then a more interesting phrasal verb with put up occurred to me: put up with. I wondered how that one would look as an agentive.

That was what went through my head. What came out of my mouth was, “Maybe even your … putter upper wither?”

“Hey, watch it!”

No need for her to take offense. After all, it’s well known between us that we are each other’s putter upper withers.

After that, I had to do some Google searching for phrasal verbs with more than one particle, and found out that multiple –er marking is out there:

Let me just tell you at this point in the story, my husband is not exactly a dog lover. He is barely a dog-putter-upper-wither. (link)
As far as Gundam Wing goes, I, a former Relena-hater, am now a Relena-putter-upper-wither. (link)

But the pick upper pattern is also attested:

Lycra-clad, Arnie put-up-wither, lesbian gonnabe. (link)

Most surprising to me, though, was the discovery that multiple –er marking isn’t limited to verb-particle constructions. Check these out:

I wonder if the “NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal” is synonymous with “NASA Outstanding Discrepancy Maker-Go-Awayer Medal”(link)
Dad took me to the vet and got a tick go awayer. (Twitter feed for a dog)
a blemish reducer (aka pimple maker-go-awayer) (link)

I found those examples when I searched for “go awayer”, but once maker go awayer turned up, I checked for examples where the go got suffixed, too. I got one:

HeadOn topical headache maker-goer-awayer stuff (link)

Just last night, when it was time to pill Diamond, our cat who’s been peeing on the walls, Doug volunteered to fetch her while I got the pill ready. When he returned, he said he’d had to drag her out from under the bed. He was good at that, he said; he was still small enough to do it. Yep, I thought, Doug’s our cat-dragger-outer-fromer-underer, all right! After Diamond scratched Doug, got the pill stuck in her cheek and then started hyperslobbering before leaping down, spitting it out and running to the basement, I Googled “outer fromer underer”. Finally, I had a search that got no hits. But it might be out there…

The putter upper pattern is even more productive than I’d imagined. How do you form the agentive noun for phrasal verbs like pick up, put up with, make go away, drag out from under?

UPDATE, Mar. 2, 2010: Ben Zimmer writes in an email:

Nice post. Just remembered that Noncompositional blogged on this a couple of years ago. See my comment for OED first cites. This might be of interest too.

Thanks, Ben!

Posted in Gapping, Morphology, Phrasal verbs | 9 Comments »

Extreme Gapping

Posted by Neal on November 21, 2008

“I can’t believe you put up with me,” my wife said.

“Nor I you me,” I replied.

She burst into laughter. After all, it’s pretty funny to imagine that she might have trouble putting up with me.

Gapping is a kind of nonparallel coordination in which two clauses are coordinated, each having the same main verb, and the verb is omitted from the second clause. Here’s an example:

Jim ordered a milkshake, and Kim (ordered) a beer.

If the subject and direct object in the verbless clause are pronouns, we end up with the somewhat unusual case of an entire clause consisting of pronouns:

Jim: I love you.
Kim: And I (love) you.

But I’d never heard a gapping sentence with both a main verb and an embedded verb omitted in the second clause, until I heard myself saying

Nor (can) I (believe) you (put up with) me.

Have any of you encountered bilevel gapping in the wild?

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Posted in Gapping, The wife | 4 Comments »

Human Rights FLoP

Posted by Neal on July 5, 2008

Our old friend, the Friends in Low Places coordination, has popped up again. Arnold Zwicky discusses an example that he found in a headline on

Brinkley spouse slept with, gave teen $300K

Since we’re on the subject, I’ll add the most recent FLoP coordination I’ve found:

As became increasingly obvious in the months after the [Abu Ghraib] photos came to public light, this pattern of abuse did not result from the acts of individual soldiers who broke the rules. It resulted from decisions made by the Bush administration to bend, ignore, or cast rules aside.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Gapping, Right-node wrapping ("Friends in Low Places" coordinations) | 3 Comments »

Coordination Meets Quotative Inversion

Posted by Neal on June 7, 2006

Last summer, I added to my list of Friends in Low Places coordinations a couple that I got from a posting on Blogslot, written by Bill Walsh, a copyeditor for The Washington Post. Walsh read my post quoting him, and had this to say in a comment:

I have a similar problem with a common fiction device:

“I don’t love you anymore,” she said, and turned away from me.

She said it, but she didn’t turn-away-from-me it. I think another “she” is required after “and.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Coordination and quotation fronting, Gapping, Kids' entertainment, Semantics | 13 Comments »