laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Fri Sep 30 21:46:25 EDT 2016
I like "false positive" too. Here's my favorite riff on them (formerly pressed into service for midterms in my Words class); not all of the positives below were lost, though some may have been fathomably misplaced due to foreseen circumstances.
How I met my wife
[published in the New Yorker, July 25, 1994]
It had been a rough day, so when I walked into the party I was very chalant, despite my efforts to appear gruntled and consolate. I was furling my wieldy umbrella for the coat check when I saw her standing alone in a corner. She was a descript person, a woman in a state of total array. Her hair was kempt, her clothing shevelled, and she moved in a gainly way.
I wanted desperately to meet her, but I knew I'd have to make bones about it since I was travelling cognito. Beknownst to me, the hostess, whom I could see both hide and hair of, was very proper, so it would be skin off my nose if anything bad happened. And even though I had only swerving loyalty to her, my manners couldn't be peccable. Only toward and heard-of behavior would do.
Fortunately, the embarrassment that my maculate appearance might cause was evitable. There were two ways about it, but the chances that someone as flappable as I would be ept enough to become persona grata or a sung hero were slim. I was, after all, something to sneeze at, someone you could easily hold a candle to, someone who usually aroused bridled passion. So I decided not to risk it. But then, all at once, for some apparent reason, she looked in my direction and smiled in a way that I could make heads and tails of.
I was plussed. It was concerting to see that she was communicado, and it nerved me that she was interested in a pareil like me, sight seen. Normally, I had a domitable spirit, but, being corrigible, I felt capacitated—as if this were something I was great shakes at—and forgot that I had succeeded in situations like this only a told number of times. So, after a terminable delay, I acted with mitigated gall and made my way through the ruly crowd with strong givings.
Nevertheless, since this was all new hat to me and I had no time to prepare a promptu speech, I was petuous. Wanting to make only called-for remarks, I started talking about the hors d'oeuvres, trying to abuse her of the notion that I was sipid, and perhaps even bunk a few myths about myself.
She responded well, and I was mayed that she considered me a savory character who was up to some good. She told me who she was. "What a perfect nomer," I said, advertently. The conversation became more and more choate, and we spoke at length to much avail. But I was defatigable, so I had to leave at a godly hour. I asked if she wanted to come with me. To my delight, she was committal. We left the party together and have been together ever since. I have given her my love, and she has requited it.
> On Sep 30, 2016, at 3:32 PM, Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM> wrote:
> I like "false positive," but the term I've most often seen is "lost
> positive." This was apparently coined back in the 1950s by one David
> McCord, founder of The Society for the Restoration of Lost Positives:
> The term was further popularized by William and Mary Morris (it shows up in
> their 1975 Harper Dictionary of Contemporary Usage).
> Of course, "lost" implies that the positive once was found, but as Larry
> can tell us, a lot of the positive forms are ex-post-facto back-formations.
> On Fri, Sep 30, 2016 at 2:45 PM, Geoffrey Nunberg <nunbergg at gmail.com>
>> "This is not a hinged human being.” John Avlon on CNN, referring to…
>> Like ‘gruntled,’ ‘kempt’ etc. What does one call these — just
>> back-formations? I sort of like “false positives,” but I imagine that has
>> already occurred to someone. Most things have.
> The American Dialect Society - https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__www.americandialect.org&d=CwIFaQ&c=-dg2m7zWuuDZ0MUcV7Sdqw&r=wFp3X4Mu39hB2bf13gtz0ZpW1TsSxPIWYiZRsMFFaLQ&m=ONXwbLG-5aHOPdKNMXZuDmfHAdpjxfd21_KWpYqG8dk&s=CopK3x34Rz8HW3x0NB6dF_U32C7ymJsMjve2kNMs0AU&e=
The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
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