[Ads-l] Was "Language Nerd" Really Adjectived?

Thu Nov 6 16:21:44 UTC 2014

The most recent XKCD, http://www.xkcd.com/1443/ has the following text, purportedly from a conversation between its cartoon characters:  "I don't mean to go all language nerd on you, but I just legit adverbed "legit," verbed "adverb," and adjectived "language nerd."  (For extra jollies, not germane to this email, the cartoon also includes as a tooltip:  "Not to go all sentence fragment on you.")

Now, I have no problems with the adverbing and verbing, but I don't feel comfortable with the claim that "language nerd" was adjectived.  It seems to me that "to go" is a copulative verb and "language nerd" is a predicate noun.  Geoff Pullum on Language Log, http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=15576, seems to be inclined toward this approach, while concluding that it may be consistent with adjectiving, since he writes:  "So perhaps it would have been safer for a real language nerd to say (I just) predicative-complemented 'language nerd'. But for the most part what you get in the go all ____ on you is adjective-headed phrases, so (I just) adjectived 'language nerd' is arguably accurate."

Arnold Zwicky takes a different approach on his blog, http://arnoldzwicky.org/2014/11/06/language-nerd/, where he writes:  "Then there's the construction in go (all) X (on s.o.), where X is a nominal - here, a N + N compound (language nerd, sentence fragment) - converted to an adverbial in construction with the verb go."  So Arnold, although he doesn't entirely spell it out, is rejecting the propositions that "to go" is copulative and that "language nerd" is adjectival.

I'm clearly out of my depth.  What's really going on in the XKCD text?

John Baker

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

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