"swap": inversion of meaning

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Fri Jan 21 13:52:20 UTC 2005

Sorry - I certainly didn't mean to imply anyone was younger than I am.

The definition of to "swap" as "to trade or exchange" insufficently describes its historical usage. "Swapping X for Y" usually entails the idea that X is in my possession or under my control and Y is something new that isn't.

"I swapped whole grains for refined ones" means to most of us just the opposite of what the writer clearly intended.

As to the "novelty" of this newer usage - it caught my eye because even after hearing and reading billions and billions of words of English, I'd never encountered it before. This seems also to be true for the other posters to this thread.

Arnold's analysis of the shift is fairly technical but  may account for what happened.


James Smith <jsmithjamessmith at YAHOO.COM> wrote:
---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: James Smith
Subject: Re: "swap": inversion of meaning

Hardly young at 59, the use of "swap" to mean trade,
exchange, or substitute seems totally natural to me.
What is the so-called "established" meaning of swap?

--- Jonathan Lighter wrote:

> "Blending" could account for the occasional slip of
> the tongue or pen, but Arnold is probably closer to
> explaining how such "slips" (if indeed that's how
> they originate) become "part of the language." In
> simple terms, more young (I guess) people -
> including young people who wind up as print
> journalists - have failed to comprehend a big part
> of the established meaning of "swap" and
> "substitute" (and perhaps "trade" and "switch").
> There's enough evidence to suggest that the shift is
> beginning to embrace this entire category of words.
> JL
> "Arnold M. Zwicky" wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail
> header -----------------------
> Sender: American Dialect Society
> Poster: "Arnold M. Zwicky"
> Subject: Re: "swap": inversion of meaning
> On Jan 17, 2005, at 8:24 AM, Gerald Cohen wrote:
> > This looks like a blend: "subsitute whole grains
> for refined ones" +
> > "swap/switch refined grains for whole ones."
> >
> > In my article "Contributions To The Study of
> Blending" (_Etymology
> > And Linguistic Principles_, vol. 1---by Gerald
> Leonard Cohen, 1988;
> > self-published but very favorably
> reviewed---pp.81-94), I comment on
> > semantic change as a result of blending (p.89):
> > "As a result of blending, words are often thrust
> into a new
> > environment which changes the meaning of those
> words." (Then: two
> > examples; Jonathan Lighter's example below seems
> to be a third one,
> > albeit not from the standard language.).
> >>
> > Original message from Jonathan Lighter, January
> 17, 2005:
> >
> >> This is much like the odd shift in the meaning of
> "substitute"
> >> commented upon some weeks ago:
> >>
> >> "New dietary guidelines coming out Wednesday are
> expected to place
> >> more emphasis on counting calories and exercising
> daily, along with
> >> swapping whole grains for refined ones and eating
> a lot more
> >> vegetables and fruits." -- Gov't: Calories, Not
> Carbs, Make You Fat
> >> (AP)
> >> January 12, 2005
> >>
> >>
> >>
> >> This says to me (nonsensically) that if you're
> eating whole grains
> >> now, you should switch to refined ones.
> >>
> >> Thoughts?
> to recap the old "substitute" discussion: there are
> three usages:
> (1) original: substitute NEW for OLD
> (2) encroached: substitute OLD with/by NEW
> [an extension of the "replace" pattern]
> (3) reversed: substitute OLD for NEW
> [denison suggests that this is a blend of (1) and
> (2). note
> that both (2) and (3) have the virtue of putting OLD
> before NEW,
> iconically to the preferred sequence of old and new
> information]
> now, the obvious analysis of lighter's "swap"
> example -- "swap NEW for
> OLD", instead of "swap OLD for NEW" -- is that it's
> an extension of
> the pattern in (1) to new verbs with semantics
> similar to "substitute"
> ("swap", and possibly, as cohen suggests, "switch"
> as well; i'd add
> "trade"). this extension would be facilitated by the
> fact that "swap",
> "switch", and "trade" are verbs of *mutual*
> substitution, for which (in
> central uses) NEW replaces OLD and OLD replaces NEW:
> in "I
> swapped/switched/traded my marbles for her baseball
> cards", the marbles
> replace the baseball cards and vice versa. which
> participant is
> expressed by the direct and which by the oblique
> object could be
> entirely determined by matters of focus and
> topicality in the
> discourse.
> so lighter's example could result from an extension
> of a construction
> to new head verbs semantically similar to existing
> ones, a phenomenon
> that is very widely attested.
> cohen's syntactic blend analysis strikes me as
> pretty implausible. in
> clear examples of syntactic blends, it's plausible
> to maintain that the
> speaker (or writer) was entertaining two competing
> plans for expressing
> the same meaning (or very similar ones) and ended up
> with elements of
> each, usually in pretty simple ways (by splicing or
> substitution, to
> use the terminology from davld fay's 1981 paper,
> "Substitutions and
> splices: A study of sentence blends"). cohen's
> proposal is that "swap
> NEW for OLD" results from blending
> (1) substitute NEW for OLD
> and
> (2) swap/switch OLD for NEW,
> which involves, at the surface, switches in three
> places, holding only
> the preposition "for" constant. it is, of course,
> possible that
> blending takes place at a more abstract level of
> analysis, in which the
> allocation of OLD and NEW to syntactic arguments is
> separated from the
> choice of "for" as the oblique marker.
> extensions of constructions to new head items
> semantically related to
> existing heads *could* always be analyzed as
> syntactic blends, with a
> certain amount of ingenuity (as above). but this
> seems to me like the
> wrong way to go, especially since people who produce
> these extensions
> so rarely treat them as inadvertent errors; in
> general, the extensions
> look like innovations in grammars, made
> independently by some number of
> speakers and then spread to other speakers by the
> usual means.
> arnold (zwicky at csli.stanford.edu
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