more back-formed shopping

Arnold Zwicky zwicky at STANFORD.EDU
Thu Dec 4 15:53:25 UTC 2008

On Dec 4, 2008, at 6:11 AM, Jim Landau wrote:

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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "James A. Landau <JJJRLandau at>"
>              <JJJRLandau at NETSCAPE.COM>
> Subject:      Re: more back-formed shopping
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Somewhat of a stretch, but there is the term "store-bought" (dated
> by MWCD10 as 1905) which suggests (but does not prove) the existence
> of a term "to store-buy" with a sense somewhat related to the ones
> discussed on this thread.

this is exactly backwards.  the usual story on the creation of back-
formed two-part verbs is that they arise from "synthetic compounds",
compound nouns of the form X + Y, where Y is a PRP, agentive, or PSP
version of a V ("bicycle-riding", "bicycle-rider", "storm-tossed") and
X is a N denoting a non-subject.  synthetic compounds do not
presuppose the existence of a verb V+N ("bicycle-ride", "storm-toss").

but synthetic compounds *look* like they're based on V+N verbs, so the
way is open for people to innovate these verbs.  so from the noun
"substitute teacher" 'someone who teaches as a substitute for the
regular teacher' we get a new verb "substitute-teach" (pointed out to
me by Chris Waigl not long ago), and from the noun "doctor-shopping"
'shopping for a doctor' we get a new verb "doctor-shop" (as Neal
Whitman has reminded us).

once that's happened and the innovative verb spreads, people will be
inclined to see what were originally synthetic compounds as just based
on the innovative verb.  these days, people think of "babysitter" as
based on the verb "babysit", though historically it's the other way
around; synchronically, "babysitter" *is* based on the verb "babysit".

"store-bought" is a (conventionalized, formulaic) synthetic compound
of the PSP type ('bought in/from a store').  it doesn't presuppose a
verb "store-buy" 'buy in/from a store' (though such a verb might have
been innovated by now).


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