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

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Mon Aug 24 17:05:00 UTC 2009

Would we really expect dictionaries to list all "middle" uses of
transitive verbs? <<

Certainly in this case, because the meaning is both useful and specific -
and, I suspect, fairly common among film reviewers.

The corresponding sense of "read" once seemed eccentric - maybe even too
eccentric to be in a dictionary, but now it's absolutely routine.  How did
Chaucer do without it?


On Mon, Aug 24, 2009 at 12:01 PM, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at>wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: watch = "(of a motion picture) to seem through viewing"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> 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?
> LH
> [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 -

"There You Go Again...Using Reason on the Planet of the Duck-Billed

The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list