Early appearances of "irregardless"
laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Fri May 4 18:16:54 UTC 2007
At 12:27 PM -0400 5/4/07, sagehen wrote:
> >At 12:48 AM -0400 5/4/07, James C Stalker wrote:
>>>Unthaw is not uncommon in adult language. Perhaps we are dealing with overt
>>>and covert negatives? Break = undo, unmake; thaw = unfreeze.
>>I've actually written a couple of papers on un-verbs addressing this
>>very issue. My claim (following, although not precisely, some
>>observations of Whorf on "cryptotypes" as well as a suggestion of
>>Michael Covington) is that un-verbs occur most naturally (and
>>relatively productively, especially in the speech of children between
>>3 1/2 and 5 1/2 or so) when they restore a natural state. In some
>>cases, as with "unthawing" but obviously not "unfreezing", this will
>>produce a verb identical in meaning with a simple verb (or one sense
>>of a simpler verb) with that same meaning, in which case the result
>>will be felt to be redundant. To quote myself:
>>When the prefix attaches to a positive, goal-oriented accomplishment
>>verb, the state-change depicted by the un-verb is one which in effect
>>helps entropy along, rather than creating or restoring order. But
>>when un- attaches to a verb stem which itself denotes an
>>entropy-producing, inherently negative or source-oriented
>>accomplishment, the resultant un-verb can only be understood with
>>pleonastic reversal, as equivalent to its base, denoting an action of
>>removal, liberation, or (de)privation.
>>There is pressure (both language-internal and prescriptivist) against
>>such innovations; forms like "unloose(n)" have been ridiculed as
>>illogical for hundreds of years, but they do serve a function, since
>>the meaning of the un-verb (or redundant unXless adjective) will be
>>unambiguously entropic, while the meaning of the bare verb might not
>>be so obvious. This is why Amelia Bedelia, the proverbial literalist
>>housekeeper of the Peggy Parish children's stories, exclaims on
>>reading an instruction to dust the furniture, "Did you ever hear tell
>>of such a silly thing? At my house we undust the furniture. But
>>each to his own way." And she happily proceeds with her dusting,
>>with the help of some fragrant powder she discovers in the bathroom.
>Something like this, operating in reverse, happened in product labelling,
>perhaps at the behest of the product safety people, when "inflammable" got
>changed to "flammable" 40 or 50 years ago. I suppose "inflammable" was
>deemed to be liable to misinterpretation as UNflammable.
Right; an reanalysis that was perhaps inevitable, and not necessarily
innocuous. Less perniciously (unless perhaps one has a narrow
gullet), there's "unpitted prunes"--are those prunes that have pits,
or that used to have them and no longer do? I've occasionally seen
packages labelled "Prunes No Pits" to avoid mistakes.
The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
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