[Ads-l] to ------ drive (fill in blank)

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sat Jul 18 17:03:24 UTC 2015

> On Jul 18, 2015, at 11:12 AM, Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM> wrote:
> A television journalist with an English accent reports from Jordan that
> after the Tennessee gunman "came back [to the U.S.], he drunk drove."
> This reveals the deadly seductiveness of the New Syntax: "drive drunk"
> takes no longer to say and is arguably  more euphonious.
All true, but the New Syntax is accompanied with a New Semantics.  I venture to suggest that for someone to choose the journalist's version (which I would hyphenate) considers "to drunk-drive" as denoting a different action from that of "to drive", even when the latter is post-modified by the depictive, "to drive drunk".  "To drunk-drive", with its incorporation, as is a lexical verb (not a verb phrase), is closer to the sense of "to commit drunk-driving".  Compare "he walked in his sleep" with "he sleepwalked" (or, depending on your druthers, "he sleptwalked").  I think what makes the new backformed verb seductive is that it allows the speaker/writer to allude to the special (and presumably for him/her reprehensible) nature of the action.  It would be much less seductive to backform verbs incorporating other manner modifiers, e.g. "I was late so I fast-drove", "My children were in the back so I careful(ly)-drove", because there's no specific category of actions involved here, just different ways to drive.  So I don't think it's really "to ___-drive (fill in the blank)", unless it gets you a new category of actions.  

(Quite a number of hits pop up for the New Syntax--or should that be also New Lexicon?--version, most of the first few alluding to a recent event, as in:
"Secret service agents drunk drove into White House barrier."

I'm sure there are other such cases, but I'm not thinking of them at the moment.  If "to skinny-dip" didn't exist, we could maybe say "they nude-swam", given that (as in various syntax papers point out) "drunk" and "nude" are among the most frequent depictives.  So let's try "to nude-sunbathe".  Yup, a bunch of hits; here are the first few:

You can't nude sunbathe with this tip, but this is your only chance to race around your pool stark naked.
Germans Love To Nude Sunbathe
She Likes to Nude Sunbathe - I Don't Want Her To
When you nude sunbathe, do u keep your legs flat and straight or have them wide open ?

I think I better quit here.


P.S. My preference for a hyphen in these, given that the incorporation yields a new lexical item, apparently puts me in the minority, based on Google hits.

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

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