X to Y: Recency illusion?

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Mon Apr 28 17:26:53 UTC 2008

On Apr 27, 2008, at 8:23 PM, Neal Whitman wrote:

> For a few years, I've been noticing the omission of the preposition
> 'from'
> in phrases like these:
>   Buddha to Buffy...

> One guess I have is that this is a generalization
> from clipped "from X to Y" PPs in compounds like "cradle-to-grave
> insurance"
> or "head-to-toe coverage" or "wall-to-wall carpet".

it could just be omission of material that's predictable in context.

> What prompted me to ask about this today was something in today's
> newspaper:
>   "Tweens to teenagers are going to hear their parents say 'no' for
> the
> first time,"...

> I believe that's the first time I've seen the "X to Y" construction
> used as
> something other than a PP.

it is true that PPs can serve as subjects as well as adverbials --
   From 10 to 2 is the busiest time of the day.
   From 10 to 13 is a difficult age.
     (cf. Under the rug is a bad place to hide a gun.)

and as postnominal modifiers --
   The hours from 10 to 2 are the busiest of the day.
   Children from 10 to 13 are often difficult.
     (cf. The gun under the rug was obvious.)

and "from X to Y" has the variant "X to Y" in these uses --
   10 to 2 is the busiest time of the day.
   10 to 13 is a difficult age.
   The hours 10 to 2 are the busiest of the day.
   Children 10 to 13 are often difficult.

> Here, not only do I have to add in a 'from'; I
> also have to add in an 'Everyone'. to make it a full NP.

try "kids" or something of the sort; then there's no problem with
number agreement.

> ... At this point I have to conclude that "X to Y" is going or has
> gone beyond a
> mere clipping and is becoming something else.

clippings often develop a characteristic syntax of their own, not
identical to their full alternatives; they become new constructions.
so nouns with clipped articles ("time was", "thing is") don't have
quite the same syntax as their arthrous counterparts ("the time was",
"the thing is"):
   The thing is that we have to go.
   The thing is, we have to go.
   *Thing is that we have to go.
   Thing is, we have to go.
(these clippings are not just casual-speech phenomena.  i have a pile
of examples from the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the
like, and not just in quoted speech.)

> You can see above that 1999 is my earliest dating for it, but I
> wonder how
> long it's really been out there. It's hard to search for, since the
> only
> word that remains constant is the 'to', and I don't know what
> keywords would
> find me any scholarly research on this.

the category in my example files is Truncation, but that's not widely
used by linguists (and is used for plenty of other things).
"clipping" is usually used for clipped variants of words ("cig" or
"ret(te)" for "cigarette"), so searching on that will get you lots of
irrelevant stuff.

> Do any of you have antedatings or
> references?

alas no, but now i've made a XtoY file.  i probably just didn't notice
the phenomenon.


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