"the listening-to of Christmas music"

Arnold Zwicky zwicky at STANFORD.EDU
Tue Dec 9 19:27:39 UTC 2008

On Dec 8, 2008, at 6:21 PM, Scott wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Scott <harview at MONTANA.COM>
> Subject:      Re: "the listening-to of Christmas music"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> On Mon, Dec 01, 2008 at 04:32:48PM -0500, Wilson Gray wrote:
>> In my youth in the 'Forties and 'Fifties, people used to pompously
>> intone strings like "the listening-to of Christmas music" for laughs.
>> They sounded really hilariously wrong. Nowadays, people use such
>> constructions so often that I'm beginning to wonder whether anyone
>> younger than thirty finds anything unusual about them. Certainly,
>> such
>> strings are easily  generated and easily understood.

they strike me as at best awkward, but then i'm an old guy.  certainly
they're attested, and from all sorts of sources; just for {"the
listening-to of"}, some examples:

   the listening to of the internal sounds of the body, usually with a
stethoscope, to help with medical diagnosis [Latin auscultare to
listen attentively] ...

   I know this group promotes the listening to of all genres and veins
of music, but britney spears as top artist? PUHLEAZE ?!?!

   This isn't one that you buy for a few songs because everything is
made so much more by the listening to of the whole.

   ... plus you get one free extra listen to spend on the listening to
of any of your own songs for your trouble.
on _09.html

   The Commission however strongly condemns the listening to of Mr
Arendse’s private conversations and is of the opinion that this
amounts to a violation of ...
www.sahrc.org.za/sahrc_cms/downloads/ Prevailing%20conditions%20at

for many of the hits, the motivation for going for the action nominal
("the Ving of DirObj") rather than the shorter gerundive nominal
("Ving DirObj") is unclear to me.  maybe the writers thought the
action nominal sounded more "serious".  there is some motivation in
the New Zealand Commission cite, though; the writer is referring to a
specific occurrence or set of occurrences of listening, and for some
reason chooses not to identify the listener, and maybe "anyone's
listening to Mr Arendse's private conversations" would have been too

> Well, I'm well over thirty )-: But 'the listening-to' doesn't strike
> me as so strange, probably from the too oft repeated listening-to of
> my 20-something children. Actually, "the lighting-up of the Hanukkah
> candles" sounds equally acceptable. So does "the dancing-around of the
> solsticial bonfire"....

there are two different V+X constructions here.  "listen to" is V
+Prep, and though the V selects a particular Prep, V+Prep isn't a
syntactic constituent.  "light up", however, is V+Prt, and that *is* a
syntactic constituent, a two-part V, so it's entirely natural for it
to serve as the base for a derived action nominal.  (we've been over
the V+Prep vs. V+Prt distinction several times in the past here.)
"dance around" can be either: "they danced around the tree" is V+Prep,
but "the fire danced around" is V+Prt.

now, intransitive verbs can serve as the base for *another* kind of
action nominal, a subject nominal ("the Ving of Subj", as in "the
roaring of the lion").  so, as others have observed, "the dancing-
around of the solsticial bonfire" can be a subject nominal related to
"the bonfire dances around", with V+Prt.

there's no significant issue with the V+Prt cases, but the V+Prep
cases are problematic, because V+Prep isn't a V, at least in standard
treatments of these things.  but in "the listening-to of" and similar
examples, people are now treating certain instances of V+Prep (i'd
guess: those where the combination is idiomatic) as Vs for the
purposes of action nominalization, presumably by analogy to V+Prt.

some of us have the impression that this analogy is a relatively
recent development, or at least that it's caught on relatively
recently.  but i have no idea what the facts are.


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