The brainchild behind

Neal Whitman nwhitman at AMERITECH.NET
Mon May 6 19:20:17 UTC 2013

To tell the truth, I'm surprised to find that "brainchild" was coined in
the 1880s. I would have expected it to be an Old English compound
"braegen-cild", the kind of thing they'd call a kenning if it appeared
in Beowulf.


On 5/6/2013 2:36 PM, Laurence Horn 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: The brainchild behind
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> On May 6, 2013, at 2:27 PM, ADSGarson O'Toole wrote:
>>> On May 6, 2013, at 10:20 AM, Ben Zimmer wrote:
>>>> On Mon, May 6, 2013 at 9:23 AM, Neal Whitman wrote:
>>>>> On NPR this morning, a story about the dismal run of a Spice Girls in London said
>>>>> that the show's creator was also "the brainchild behind" the musical Mamma Mia.
>>>>> A Google search for "the brainchild behind" brings up a number of hits I can't
>>>>> determine on my phone screen, but I notice that the first one is from Brian's Usage
>>>>> Errors, explaining that some people misuse "brainchild" in this way. In any case, it
>>>>> was new to me.
>>>>> Checking with Google Ngrams, I see that "brainchild behind" is on the rise, but still
>>>>> very rare compared to "brainchild of". I had to magnify the results 50x before
>>>>> it appeared as something other than a flat line:*50&year_start=1900&year_end=2008&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=
>>>> And see the discussion of "brainchild" we had in Jan. '08:
>>> My only emendation to that discussion is that I'd nominate "brains (behind)"
>>> as the causal link rather than "brain" or "mastermind" (even though the
>>> semantics would be basically the same).  Of course you can also have
>>> "the brains of the operation", but "the brains behind the operation" is
>>> not uncommon either.
>> It appears that the modifier "child" is being ignored. Why?
>> Hypothesis: "brainchild" is re-interpreted as "brainy child". A
>> semantic nexus for "prodigy" already exists for many people. One
>> definition for prodigy is: A person, especially. a young one, endowed
>> with exceptional abilities. The term "brainy child" intersects with
>> this nexus, and so the user of the term "brainchild" decides it can be
>> applied to adults and children.
> I'm not sure I can get it to work that way.  The "brainchild behind" an operation, a play, etc. doesn't have anything obvious to do with prodigies, child or otherwise.  It seems to me more likely that we have a blend of "X is the (metaphorical) brainchild of Y" and "Y is the brains behind X".  If there's a child around, it's the operation, play, etc., that emerges fully-formed Athena-style from the brains of Y, not Y him/herself.
> LH
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list