"name-check" v.

Arnold Zwicky zwicky at STANFORD.EDU
Mon May 11 17:00:33 UTC 2009

from a correspondent whose name i mentioned in a posting:

   ... it's an honor to be name-checked by you.

this is a back-formation from a compound noun "name-
checking" (parallel to "name-drop" back-formed from the compound "name-
dropping" 'dropping names'), in the sense 'mention someone less famous
than you', so being name-checked (in my correspondent's usage) is
being mentioned by someone more famous than you.  in this usage, it's
the social inverse of "name-drop" (and "name-checking" is the social
inverse of "name-dropping").

(all the expressions i'm going to talk about here are sometimes
written with hyphens, sometimes as separated words, and sometimes

but there's more.

to start with, there's another, much more transparent (and presumably
much older) use of the compound noun "name-checking" 'checking
names' (in ordinary english and in specialized technical uses in
computer contexts).  such a use, being so transparent, is not in the
OED, though the June 2003 draft revision does have the compound noun
"namecheck", glossed as:

   orig. and chiefly U.S. An official check on a person's credentials,
esp. for reasons of security or criminal investigation

and there's now a back-formed verb "namecheck" in this sense (though
it's not yet in the OED), as in:

   do you know anything about the way to contact fbi to name check
oursevles? [that is, check our own names] have you heard about that?

so much for the more transparent uses of these expressions.  now on to
the family of 'mention' uses, of which my correspondent's use above is

things seem to have begun with a generalized 'mention' sense of
"checking" and "check.  the OED (June 2003) has the noun "namecheck"
in this sense ('A public mention or listing of the name of a person or
thing, esp. in acknowledgement of an individual contribution or for
publicity purposes; an acknowledgement by name'), with cites from 1972
through 1996, both british and american.

already in this definition is the idea of not only mentioning, but
*singling out* for mention.  this component continues in some uses of
the back-formed verb "namecheck", as in this comment on the website

   I think it's the responsibilty of the players themselves and the
public to deal with someone coming out. I think it's a bit strange to
name check certain players [Federer, Nadal] as if they are holding
people back because they don't fly the rainbow flag prior to someone
coming out.


this in response to:

   [Billie Jean] King also says that while she's known gay male tennis
players, there needs to be support from the athletes at the top of the
game for them to be able to come out ... [King mentions Federer and
Nadal as two relevant athletes at the top of the game]


at this point, things get much more complicated.  the Urban Dictionary
lists two more specialized senses for "namecheck(ing)", which
unfortunately are virtually opposites of one another: in my
correspondent's use as above, and as a rough synonym for
"namedrop(ping)", as in the following review of a Chris Cagle album:

   Cagle delivers a decent country performance on the title track that
goes on to name-check too many artists ... [verb use]

and in this comment on it:

   I would actually single out the same three tracks at the end, with
the same caveat about too much name-checking. Name-checking is a pet
peeve of mine.  [noun use]


there are also a modest number of cites about rappers' name-checking
various famous people, cites in which it's not entirely clear that the
mentions of these people count as name-dropping (or are simply
references to people in the news), as in:

   And, the medal for fastest rapper to name-check [Olympic gold
medalist] Usain Bolt goes to... [Wale]

   ... On a related note, Wale may also hold the record for the first
rapper to name-check Michael Phelps, way back in 2005


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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