back and forth

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Sun Nov 30 03:44:54 UTC 2008

You got me there, Alison. I know "backing and filling" only as a
literary phrase whose meaning I've never been moved to look up,
because, in my experience, IAC, it's too rare to be worth the effort.


All say, "How hard it is that we have to die"---a strange complaint to
come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
-Mark Twain

On Sat, Nov 29, 2008 at 6:32 PM, Alison Murie <sagehen7470 at> wrote:
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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Alison Murie <sagehen7470 at ATT.NET>
> Subject:      Re: back and forth
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> On Nov 29, 2008, at 12:22 PM, Arnold Zwicky wrote:
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>> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>> Poster:       Arnold Zwicky <zwicky at STANFORD.EDU>
>> Subject:      back and forth
>> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>> Victor Steinbok notes the nominal "backing and forthing", in the
>> National Review:
>> The Muslim side had sought to limit the scope of the talks to purely
>> "theological" issues, specifically excluding any concrete and specific
>> concerns like the plight of shrinking Christian minorities in Muslim-
>> majority states. After much backing and forthing, an agreement was
>> reached to split the difference, with the first day devoted to
>> "theological and spiritual fundamentals," the second to "the dignity
>> of the human person and mutual respect."
>> this struck me as entirely ordinary, but it seems not to be in the
>> OED.  plenty of examples to be found: 432 reduced [with "very similar"
>> entries omitted] google web hits for {"backing and forthing"}.  most
>> of these are for nominals, e.g.
>>   ... it was the slippery slope as his inane, "I voted for the war
>> before I voted against it" reminded every concerned voter of his
>> backing and forthing ...
>> but a few are for a present-participial verb:
>>   He had driven on the raised sidewalk to bypass the line of cars and
>> spent a good ten minutes backing and forthing to fit into the parking
>> space, ...
>> some are spelled as three separate words, some hyphenated:
>>   Since there is so much backing-and-forthing on the timing of new
>> construction purchases, I would like to remind buyers of two factors
>> that ...
>> and there are straightforward examples of "back and forth" as a verb.
>> i got 43 reduced hits for "backed and forthed", e.g.:
>>   The girls have backed and forthed a lot since then and are good
>> friends. Making that kind of connection is precisely why playdates are
>> so important, ...
>> including at least one with a dummy-"it" object:
>>   For a few months there I backed and forthed it between canaries,
>> finches and parakeets.
>> oh-how-could-you-forget-your-yellow-bird/
>> meanwhile, the variants with marking on only the final element,
>> "forth", are even more frequent: 748 reduced hits for {"back and
>> forthing"}:
>>   All this back and forthing between subject matter (fashion, beauty,
>> men, celebrity...) gives me a bit of a confusion headache ...
>> and 84 for {"back and forthed"}:
>>   janni kicked off a discussion of rules and magic, where she back-
>> and-forthed on the concept that "all magic must have rules, and the
>> writer should know them ...
>> all of these are based on the adverbial "back and forth", which has
>> been verbed, and can then be inflected on its final element or on both
>> conjuncts (cf. "up and went" / "upped and went" and similar
>> examples).  the -ing forms are then available for use as nominals, as
>> for verbs in general.
>> it's possible that the verb "back and fill" 'to go backward and
>> forward' (and the nominal "backing and filling") played a role in this
>> development.  both this verb and this nominal *are* in the OED. this
>> verb also allows inflection on the final element only:
>>   We back and filled up and down most of the day in anticipation of
>> President Elect Obama's speech. The market chopped around during and
>> after the speech ...
>>   With that said, there is a good chance that the market will see
>> some back and filling on Monday and Tuesday.
>> garner.html
>> (very few occurrences of final-inflection-only for clear verbals, more
>> for the nominal "back and filling")
>> arnold
>> ~~~~~~~~~~~~
> I wonder what the general understanding of "backing & filling" is.  I
> think of it as making excuses, patching up defenses, generally
> covering deficiencies.  The examples above sound more like waiting
> around or doing busywork.
> AM
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