watch = "(of a motion picture) to seem through viewing"

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Mon Aug 24 16:01:26 UTC 2009

At 11:13 AM -0400 8/24/09, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
>Cf. "read." Not in OED, but it must have been around for a while:
>2008 (Apr. 19) IMDb _Redacted_ [
>This is "The Blair Witch Project" meets "Full Metal Jacket" meets "Loose
>Change". It really watches like some teenager decided to make a war movie
>after spending a weekend watching Vietnam flicks.
Would we really expect dictionaries to list all "middle" uses of
transitive verbs?  This alternation between transitive and what the
OED calls "intr. for pass." is possible for a wide range of verbs,
and attested in such uses.  I note, for example, that for "translate"
(one of the standard examples of this "middle" being "Shakespeare
translates easily"), the OED includes under II. 2. b
'intr. for pass., of a language, speech, or writing: To bear or admit
of translation.'
and gives examples like these from Southey:

1812 SOUTHEY Omniana II. 30 Claudian throughout would translate
better than any of the ancients.
1827 Lett. (1856) IV. 64 The Welsh, I suspect, is not a language
which translates well.

"Cut" receives a similar treatment (sense 13a), as does "sell" (sense 6a)

  The OED certainly isn't consistent about such entries.  Thus for
"scare" it has an entry it treats somewhat differently from
"translate" and "cut":

To take a scare (see SCARE n.2); to be alarmed by rumours or the
like. Freq. in negative, esp. with easily or easy.

1900 Academy 8 Sept. 194/1 The big depositors wouldn't scare.
1941 Sun (Baltimore) 4 Jan. 6/2 Whatever else they do or fail to do,
the Irish don't scare easily. 1951 'M. SPILLANE' One Lonely Night iv.
61 They're the kind of people who scare easily.
1967 O. RUHEN in Coast to Coast 1965-6 192 The horse won't scare, but
take it easy.
1972 Village Voice (N.Y.) 1 June 5/2 'We don't scare easy,' his
cousin said as I went out the door.

But this "middle" is equally natural with "frighten" and
"intimidate", yet no such listings are given.

A question for lexicographers:
Does a dictionary *need* to list these as separate "senses" for all
the verbs allowing the middle? Is this really a lexical issue rather
than a grammatical one? Granted, the construction in question isn't
as common or productive as the passive, but you certainly wouldn't
include a separate listing for passive uses of every transitive verb
in the dictionary, would you?  If not, why would you do so for
"middles"?  Just because the shift to the intransitive is less
free/productive in such cases?


[I use scare quotes for "middle" to distinguish the relevant
construction--object as subject but with active morphology, no agent
expressed, preferential co-occurrence with manner adverbs or at least
negative or contrastive contexts and often in generic
statements--from the traditional use of "middle voice" in Greek
grammar.  But "middle" in the new use has become entrenched in papers
and dissertations on the construction over the last 30 years.]

The American Dialect Society -

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