More on De- and Un-

RonButters at AOL.COM RonButters at AOL.COM
Sun Apr 4 18:32:40 UTC 2004

Productive, yes. I first heard "de-rice" in a small town in Mexico, after 
watching a local wedding. Poor people came along and swept up the rice that had 
been thnrown and saved it in a plastic bucket. My friend asked me, "Are they 
actually saving it to throw again--or do you think God forbid they are going to 
take it home and eat it? Or maybe they are just de-ricing the area."

Also, there was a famous diet clinic in Durham, NC, in the 1970s called "The 
Rice Diet." (It was reported that Elvis Presley came to Durham and lived in a 
luxurious railroad car parked behind West Durham Lumber Company so that he 
could participate in this dieting plan.") A friend of mine tried the program for 
a while and gave up. "I think I could have made it all the way through the six 
weeks if they had just de-riced the diet a little bit."

As for UN-, there is also the use of UN- before verbs and DE- as 
intensifiers, e.g., UNTHAW = THAW (= UNFREEZE), DEBONE = BONE. These are not 
predicatable--you just have to memorize them as exceptions, right? See old conversation 

From: Larry Horn (13 March’98, 4pm):

Not for the most part particularly ADSy, but...

At 10:18 AM -0500 3/12/98, Mark Mandel wrote:
>Larry Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU> writes:
>The redundant use of negative pre- and suffix in words like
>unboundless      unguiltless      unmatchless      unshameless
>                         undauntless      unhelpless       unmerciless
>         unshapeless
>--each amounting to 'Xless' or 'unXful'--was apparently quite common in the
>16th and 17th centuries, as of course is the redundant affixation of
>unthaw, unloose(n), debone, dissever, etc.
>I seem to recall reading that Whorf analyzed some of this latter set
>differently, with a prefixal meaning of something like separation or
>release rather than negation, specifically with "un-" in "unloose",
>"unravel", and perhaps that "unthaw". (Can anyone give a citation for
>this?) "Dis-", of course, carries a meaning of separation or scattering in
>many words ("disseminate", "disperse"), and separation is certainly part of
>the meaning of "dissever". And "debone" can be analyzed with a nominal root
>rather than a verbal one, using "de-"   'cause [obj.] to be free of', as in
>"debug", "delouse".
Whorf introduces his brief discussion of un-verbs (in "A Linguistic
Consideration of Thinking in Primitive Communities", pp. 70-71 of the
standard Carroll collection of his work, _Language, Thought, and Reality_)
as an instance of what he calls the "cryptotype", a "covert linguistic
class...a submerged, subtle, and elusive meaning, corresponding to no
actual word, yet shown by linguistic analysis to be funcitonally imporatnat
in the grammar."   Other English examples he cites are the categories of
transitive verbs blocking completive UP.   In this case, un- itself is (like
"up") a phenotype; the cryptotypes are the "transitive verbs of a covering,
enclosing, and surface-attaching meaning" to which un- may be attached for
the reversal thereof.   I actually discovered this passage after working up
my own line on predicting which actions do and which don't allow un-verb
reversals; my account developed the notion of "entropy", the idea being
that the un-verb will always be interpreted as "helping entropy along".
Hence, (un)thawing chicken returns it to the "thawed" (unfrozen) state in
which it started out, while unfreezing will do the same (and thus reverse
the non-entropic act of freezing it). Not that different, as it turns out,
from what Whorf had in mind.   And while "debone" and other "de-" verbs are
plausibly analyzed as denominals (see most recently R. A. Buck's paper
"Words that are their opposites:   Noun to verb conversion in English", Word
48 (1997): 1-14), the various "un-" prefixation processes, I maintain,
preserve the category (adjective, verb, or noun) of their base.   If this is
right, then "unpeel" (an orange) is a true redundant reversative, alongside
"unthaw", "unloose(n)", and "unravel", and the attested (if now archaic,
rare, or dialectal) "unbare", "undecipher", "unempt(y)", "unsolve",
"unrid", "unrip", "unstrip".

>I prefer this transparent analysis to one that adds a
>redundant negating "de-" to the denominal verb "bone", in part because the
>zero verbalization of "bone" makes the latter analysis rather opaque.

In fact, I argue that redundant un-verbs (or the corresponding de-verbs)
are motivated precisely because the resultant form is always transparent
("helping entropy along", or source-oriented), even when the bare verb
(denominal or not) may be opaque (goal- OR source-oriented)--"Does 'string
the beans' mean putting the string on or taking it off? Better be on the
safe side and 'unstring' them".


Our supermarket, avoiding the perils of "depitted prunes", sells something
it labels "Prunes No Pits."   And then there's Amelia Bedelia*, literalist
extraordinaire of fictional housekeepers, she who dresses the chicken in
overalls, trims the fat with lace and bits of ribbon, and ices the fish
with chocolate frosting.   Reading an instruction to dust the furniture, she
exclaims, 'Did you ever hear tell of such a silly thing?   At my house we
UNdust the furniture.   But each to his own way'--as she happily proceeds
with her dusting, with the help of some fragrant talc she discovers in the

*Parish, Peggy (1963)   Amelia Bedelia.   New York:   Harper & Row.

> >As for "de-rice", the innovator was my (non-linguist) wife, and the
> >object was my daughter--this was a while ago, as the same
> >daughter--now home on college break--has been just fine with her rice
> >distribution for quite some time.
> >It's productive. No one has mentioned "debug" yet (OED 1945 in the
> >common current sense [or an obvious immediate ancestor]).
> >
> Both "de-" and "un-" can
> be used for forming denominal verbs, but the general pattern is that
> the latter can be used more freely when the corresponding unprefixed
> verb has an independent existence, even one with the same meaning
> ("unworm" a puppy, "unskin" an orange).  While un- can form un-nouns,
> un-verbs, and of course un-adjectives, but in each case it tends to
> leave the part of speech unaffected (nouns from nouns, etc.).
> "Debug" is more natural than "unbug" because there's no verb "to bug"
> in the relevant sense, and similarly for "de-stale" and "de-gay".
> Compare these recent pop song with productive reversative un-verb
> formations based on verbs:
> (1)
> Un-break my heart
> Say you'll love me again
> Undo this hurt you caused
> When you walked out the door
> And walked outta my life
> Un-cry these tears
> I cried so many nights
> ========
> (2)
> You can't uncry the tears that you've cried
> You can't unshoot that gun
> You can't unlive the life that you've lived
> (You gotta go on, go on)
> Larry Horn

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