Unwatering

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Thu Nov 1 15:30:17 UTC 2012


On Nov 1, 2012, at 7:37 AM, Neal Whitman wrote:

> Just heard on Today show: unwatering. The title was "The ~ of New York"; Savannah Guthrie asked a guy about it, who attributed it to the Army Corps of Engineers in the days after Katrina, with a base form: "to unwater New Orleans". Why not "dewater" or even "drain"? Don't know. Don't seem to recall it from Ben's "un" column. Haven't had time to seek earlier attestations...
>
> Neal

Ah, beat me to the punch, Neal.  I noticed this too but in my excitement forgot to post.  My prediction would be that "unwater" as a verb presupposes the existence of a verb "to water", a presupposition satisfied, even if the act of "unwatering" a city doesn't directly correspond to the act of "watering" a garden, a tree, etc.  Thus you can get "unfriend" (someone on social media) alongside "defriend", given the existence of "to friend", but you can't (or at least most people can't) can "unboyfriend (oneself)", given the absence of a verbal "to boyfriend"; to eliminate one's junk is sometimes described with the verb "to dething" but not "to unthing", given the absence of a verb "to thing".

On the topic of Katrina, an apt comparison, compare "unbuilding New Orleans" (as in the eponymous article in the NYT at the time:
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/19/weekinreview/19ouroussoff.html

(The print version was titled as above, like the slide show at this site; "unbuild" isn't quite synonymous with "raze" or "demolish", since it's largely used specifically in cases of house-by-house, brick-by-brick slow demolition.)

LH

>
> On Nov 1, 2012, at 4:20 AM, Paul Frank <paulfrank at POST.HARVARD.EDU> wrote:
>
>> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
>> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>> Poster:       Paul Frank <paulfrank at POST.HARVARD.EDU>
>> Subject:      Re: Nagging Question--was: Hot new Einstein quote
>> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>>
>> On Wed, Oct 31, 2012 at 8:30 PM, Hunter, Lynne R CIV
>> SPAWARSYSCEN-PACIFIC, 71700 <lynne.hunter at navy.mil> wrote:
>>> I've tried to keep quiet about this, but it just keeps nagging me: How
>>> do we know that Albert Einstein was "even smarter than Mark Twain"? Do
>>> we just accept that as a given? Is it because Einstein was a genius in
>>> math and science and Mark Twain was _only_ a genius in literature? Would
>>> we automatically say that Sir Isaac Newton was smarter than Shakespeare,
>>> or that any person highly accomplished in the sciences is _smarter_ than
>>> a person accomplished in other disciplines? Does math and science trump
>>> other fields even among this company (as it does among the general
>>> population, evidently contributing to the reverence for technology and
>>> its consequences)? Does anybody else feel uneasy about making these
>>> comparisons?
>>>
>>> Lynne Hunter
>>
>> Yesterday's Times answered your question with a W.H. Auden quote:
>> "When I find myself in the company of scientists, I feel like a shabby
>> curate who has strayed by mistake into a drawing room full of dukes."
>>
>> Cheers,
>> Paul
>>
>> Paul Frank
>> Translator
>> German, French, Chinese => English
>> Neuch√Ętel, Switzerland
>> paulfrank at post.harvard.edu
>>
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