Watermelons are long to grow

Damien Hall djh514 at YORK.AC.UK
Sat Aug 7 14:55:44 UTC 2010

A friend recently remarked

1) 'Watermelons are dear to buy and long to grow.'

I have no problem, of course, with 'dear' (=BrE for 'expensive') in a
tough-movement construction like this, but 'long' struck me as strange. It
can be made to work, sort of, if you do some of the usual paraphrasing:

2) a) 'Melons are dear to buy' (OK) > b) 'Buying melons is dear' (OK)

3) a) 'Melons are long to grow' > b) 'Growing melons is long'

The two sentences in 3) are as OK as each other; if you can accept 3a), you
might be able to accept 3b) - and there's no reason why many speakers of
English couldn't accept 3b), it seems to me, since it's surely the same
construction as

4) 'Time is short!' (meaning: 'Let's do it now before it's too late!')

Yet, probably because of the chain of reasoning that it's taken to convince
myself that 'Melons are long to grow' is formally acceptable and 'should'
sound right, 'Melons are long to grow' still sounds to me like an
innovative extension of a construction I know, as opposed to something
natural. I think it might well be to do with the different semantics of
'dear', 'tough', 'easy', difficult', etc (the words that usually undergo
this sort of tough-movement transformation) on the one hand, and 'long'
(for time) on the other; but there my expertise stops. I can't comment on
the semantics at all.

How does this sound to others, and can you explain it? It's hard to Google
(pardon the pun), of course, to see how common it is. The commonness of
'time is short' is no gauge of the acceptability of this construction, as
it's a fixed phrase which you might use even if you never used this
construction anywhere else; If you Google 'time is long' you get pages of
false hits for things like 'the time is long overdue'; etc.


Damien Hall

University of York
Department of Language and Linguistic Science
YO10 5DD

Tel. (office) +44 (0)1904 432665
     (mobile) +44 (0)771 853 5634
Fax  +44 (0)1904 432673



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