"Do you do Taco Hell?" / "bus" as non-count n.

Charles Doyle cdoyle at UGA.EDU
Sat Dec 16 18:19:36 UTC 2006

Very clear and illuminating comments, Arnold (as usual)--and thought-provoking.


---- Original message ----
>Date: Sat, 16 Dec 2006 09:01:55 -0800
>From: "Arnold M. Zwicky" <zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU>
>Subject: Re: "Do you do Taco Hell?" / "bus" as non-count n.
>---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
>Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>Poster:       "Arnold M. Zwicky" <zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU>
>Subject:      Re: "Do you do Taco Hell?" / "bus" as non-count n.
>On Dec 9, 2006, at 11:54 AM, Charlie Doyle wrote:
>> Re. "bus":
>> And then we have such "non-count" uses as "go (travel) by bus (car/
>> train/boat/plane/mule/foot)."  Or "jump ship" (though I reckon
>> that's pretty much just an idiom now).
>i'm not sure that it's right to see "bus" in "travel by bus" etc. as
>non-count.  i'm more inclined to say that these are idiomatic uses of
>nouns in their bare forms, and to suggest that we shouldn't have to
>assign the nouns *in these idioms* to either C or M.
>that might also be the thing to say about the nouns in prepositional
>location idioms like "at/to/in school".
>there are, by the way, a huge number of idioms like "jump ship":
>"give chase", "take charge", "take part", "set sail" etc.  (alongside
>idioms with articles in them, like "take a gander" and "take the fall").
>bare nouns appear productively in several places in english grammar,
>for example as the first N in N+N compounds: "bird sanctuary" has
>what looks like a singular C noun "bird" as its first element, but
>it's understood as a plural ('sanctuary for birds') and doesn't have
>the determiners that are normally required by singular C words.  the
>thing to say about this is that "bird" in "bird sanctuary" is indeed
>a C noun, but that it's in its bare form.  (M nouns can also occur as
>the first elements of compounds, as in "sand castle" -- also in their
>bare forms, but these look like ordinary singulars at first glance.)
>moving from the morphology-syntax boundary land to just plain syntax:
>there are several contexts in which bare NPs can occur.  some of
>these have the NPs integrated into the syntax of sentences --
>   Famous linguist that I am,... [fronted predicative]
>   Kim is chair of the committee. [predicative in predicate]
>   Distinguished linguist Joan Bresnan will speak. [adnominal modifier]
>but most are isolated, syntactically and prosodically:
>   vocative: Hey, lady, you dropped your piano.
>   epithet: Idiot!  You've ruined the whole thing!
>   hot news exclamative: Distinguished linguist!  Just to your left!
>some further details available at:
>   http://www-csli.stanford.edu/~zwicky/isolated.hnd.pdf
>if particular constructions can require bare nominals, then we'd
>expect idioms to be able to do the same.  but in idioms it can be
>hard to tell whether you're looking at a C or M noun, and maybe
>there's no need to decide.
>there are, of course, ways to convert C to M (and vice versa),
>sometimes even in idiomatic expressions.  example:
>"cock"/"dick"/"pussy" in
>   I really need cock/dick/pussy.
>these can be seen to be M uses of normally C nouns, since they occur
>with characteristic M determiners:
>   I wasn't getting much cock/dick/pussy.
>> By the way, Arnold: Despite my most ardent effort, I'm not wholly
>> persuaded that "prom" (as in "Who are you taking to prom?" or "I
>> wish our schools had prom on different nights") functions like a
>> proper noun,
>i didn't say that "prom" etc. *were* proper nouns, only that they
>were in some way like them; that's why i called them "pseudo-proper
>nouns".    what they share with proper nouns is their determiner
>syntax.  you might think of them as being like mass nouns (since they
>refer to extents, and are singular), but they don't occur with mass
>   *Much prom was boring. 'Much of prom was boring'
>and this is true of event-denoting proper nouns as well:
>   *Much Christmas was boring. 'Much of Christmas was boring'
>they can of course occur with count determiners, but then we're
>probably looking at the ordinary count common nouns "prom" etc.
>> unless we regard "proper noun" in a way that includes such words
>> (as they occur in certain phrases) as "(back from) vacation" or
>> "(on) leave" or "(at) rest"--which I suppose is possible: a
>> special, nonroutine time or occasion.
>i don't how what to say about "at rest", which is fixed in form.  but
>"vacation" and "leave" have uses outside the prepositional idioms,
>uses that suggest these are like "prom" etc.:
>   Vacation lasts only two weeks and is over before you know it.
>   Leave lasts only until Sunday.
>similarly, "nap" and various other event nouns:
>   Nap will be in ten minutes.
>> Until pretty recently, "He's on break now" sounded odd to me.  And
>> there's the unAmerican "Where did you go for holiday?"
>i'm fine with "break", and it's like "nap" for me:
>   Break will be in ten minutes.
>but "holiday" doesn't work for me at all like "vacation":
>   *Holiday lasts only two weeks and is over before you know it.
>suggesting that "on holiday" is just another prepositional idiom with
>the bare form of a noun in it.
>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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

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