semantic drift "officer," "avoid"

Mark Mandel thnidu at GMAIL.COM
Tue Nov 25 22:34:04 UTC 2008

ISTM that the meaning isn't so much 'prevent' as 'save DO from *having
to* S', but without "save"'s implication that S is (not merely
annoying or troublesome but) dangerous. No clear difference in the
first cite, as far as it's given, but look at the next few.

Mark Mandel

On Sun, Nov 23, 2008 at 12:15 PM, Arnold Zwicky <zwicky at> wrote:
> On Nov 23, 2008, at 7:34 AM, Jon Lighter wrote:
> > ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> > -----------------------
> > Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> > Poster:       Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM>
> > Subject:      Re: semantic drift "officer," "avoid"
> > -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> >
> > ... from today's Fox and Friends: "...hoping to avoid the Big Three
> > auto makers from having to declare Chapter 7 bankruptcy."
> >
> > I've long heard "avoid" where "prevent" would make better sense, but
> > the effect on syntax in this case is striking.
> here are some similar examples:
>   ... whenever possible, to count any undefined transfer credits
> towards the Bachelor of Science requirements to avoid students from
> having to unnecessarily take additional courses to qualify for
> graduation.
>   In addition, this will avoid ES&S from having to issue contrary
> instructions to Iron Mountain to prohibit the release of the InkaVote
> Plus voting system ...
>   answer the telephone to avoid others from having to interrupt their
> work ...
>   To avoid others from having to perform this task by hand, you can
> create your very own snippet extension, which will automatically
> install them into the ...
>   Spam checks your messages to avoid them from being caught in spam
> filters.
>   ... out of the reach of children to avoid them from swallowing or
> inhaling small pieces, and avoid trimmings that resemble candy or ...
> this might be a simple extension of "avoid" to the V NP from VPing
> pattern of "prevent" and "keep", on the basis of their semantic
> similarity.  but before Jerry Cohen gets to this, i'll point out that
> it could have originated in syntactic blending -- of that pattern with
> the V NP('s) VPing pattern ("to avoid others(') having to interrupt
> their work", "to avoid them swallowing or inhaling small pieces",
> etc.).  but there are so many examples that it's hard to see each of
> them as an inadvertent error; perhaps inadvertent blendings were the
> germ, but it seems clear that a fair number of people now have simply
> added "avoid" to the "prevent"/"keep" class.
> this extension has some semantic motivation: the "from" in the pattern
> reinforces the aversive semantics of "avoid".
> arnold
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