"unring" etc.

Charles Doyle cdoyle at UGA.EDU
Fri Dec 7 14:07:28 UTC 2007

Not really analogous to "unring," but . . .

I was reading a spy thriller, and I came upon this clause (part of an interior monolog of a megalomaniac): ". . . undreamed-of power would be his." For some reason, my mind balked at "undreamed-of"; for a couple of seconds, I tried to read "undreamed" as "under-armed." (For one thing, the character IS, obviously, "dreaming" of such power!)

The OED gives two 17th-century instances of the phrase "undreamed of" (without the hyphen). Google produces 233,000 hits for the phrase (with or without the hyphen, which a Google search doesn't acknowledge).

My difficulty, I believe, concerned constituents: The phrase is really "un(dreamed-of)," but, of course, we have no standard punctuation to represent that structure. I think, though, I would write "un-dreamed-of" (Google yields some 900 hits for that construction, some of them for "un-dreamed of").


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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