another round on "to X-shop"

Arnold Zwicky zwicky at STANFORD.EDU
Fri Dec 5 18:23:50 UTC 2008

In recent postings on N+V compound verbs ("people-watch", "plea-
bargain", "store-buy"), I noted that the usual development is

   (a) V in syntactic construction with N functioning as the head of a
non-subject argument ("shop with my family");
   (b) N+V' (where V' is related to V by inflection or derivation) in
a (non-V) synthetic compound ("family-shopping" 'shopping with one's
family', as in "Family-shopping can be wearing");
   (c) N+V as a compound verb ("to family-shop").

[the synthetic compounds and the compound verbs are punctuated in
various ways: written solid, hyphenated, written as two separate
words.  i'll let the hyphenated version stand for all three variants.]

the label "back-formation" for stage (c) is then a historical label;
people who use or hear the verb N+V don't necessarily appreciate its
historical source.

so the usual consequence of this kind of back-formation in english is
the existence of a scattering of N+V compounds in the language.  these
are duly noted in inventories of the morphological types of english
(they are very unevenly represented in dictionaries).  they are
formally parallel to a type of "noun incorporation" (into verbs) found
in many languages, but differ from it in that the english examples are
sporadic, while noun incorporation is systematic, general, and
productive in languages that are customarily described as having it.

[i won't go into several ancillary topics here -- in particular, the
animosity of many people towards these back-formations (and verbings
and nounings) on the grounds that there are not only innovations, but
*unnecessary* innovations.]

but sometimes things look different.  one class of the "X-shop" verbs
stands out here: type (2) in my long posting about the subject, where N
+"shop" can be glossed roughly as 'shop for N(s), shop in order to buy

in other types of N+"shop" combinations, the story that leads from
(a) through (c) seems just right, and is generally supported by
attestations, in particular by attestations of the synthetic compounds
in (b) before the N+V compounds in (c).  i doubt that this is going to
work for the avalanche of N+"shop" verbs of type (2).  my suggestion
-- note, not assertion -- is that N+"shop" in this sense is now a
productive pattern in english, so that you can create new instances of
it without necessarily having experienced the relevant synthetic
compounds.  (after four or five hours of collecting N+"shop" verbs in
this sense, i tired of the enterprise; there were just too many.)
it's hard for me to believe that people had to experience the noun
"vegetable-shopping" before they could produce the verb "vegetable-

my suggestion is then that N+"shop" in the sense above is an instance
of a morphological rule of english, licensing new lexical items (with
particular forms and particular meanings).  i'm not suggesting that N
+V verbs in general are to be described by such a rule, only that
there's a small island of regularity in the world of N+V verbs.


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