Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Thu Jan 31 22:23:07 UTC 2008

On Jan 31, 2008 4:55 PM, Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at> wrote:
> Damien Hall <halldj at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU> wrote:
> > Heard on Fox News Philadelphia last night (30 January):
> >
> > 'The brainchild [of the Smart car] is the same guy responsible for Swatch
> > watches.'
> >
> > This seems like a semantic 'reversal' of a type that I think is common but whose
> > label I don't know, maybe a bit akin to the transitive-intransitive reversal in
> > "I notice you have a stain on your shirt" -> "I can't wear this shirt; the
> > stain will notice" (= be noticeable). (A friend of mine says that, and I don't
> > think she's the only one.)
> >
> > Anyway, this 'reversed' sense of 'brainchild' to mean 'person who came up with
> > the idea' isn't in *OED*. It may be a nonce use - difficult to Google for -
> > but here it is, FWIW. I'm sure that the concept of the brain as the origin of
> > ideas, and the concept of 'child prodigy', come into this somewhere too.
> Not a reversal, I think, just a different sense: "smart person."  HDAS cites the Rev.
> Jesse Jackson's use of this term in 1969.

In the Fox News attestation, one could also posit some semantic
interference from "mastermind", or perhaps it's simply modeled on "the
brains (of/behind an undertaking, effort, etc.)". Some similar

So who else is fighting the fat? Only Donna Fontenot (the brainchild
of this whole operation).
Brit ecological-minded property developer Jeremy Paxton ... is the
brainchild of an ecologically sustainable development of second homes.
Each week, Probation Officer Jeffrey Foote, who is the brainchild of
PASS [Probation Assisting Successful School], reviews students'
progress reports and assists students with making up missed
assignments or completing homework.
That man was none other than Paul Scrivens, best known as Scrivs who
is the brainchild behind the popular 9rules network.
He was also the brainchild behind last year's "Ballet Mori," an
eight-minute performance by Muriel Maffre, San Francisco Ballet
principal dancer, to commemorate the anniversary of the 1906 San
Francisco earthquake.
The brainchild behind these and other creative efforts to help reduce
accidents at the Lab is Facilities Division Safety Coordinator Janice

And many many more, Googleable here:

--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list