back and forth

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Sun Nov 30 03:40:07 UTC 2008

FWIW: Both "backing and forthing" and "backing and forthing and to-ing
and fro-ing" seem completely ordinary to me.


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 12:22 PM, Arnold Zwicky <zwicky at> 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
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