"on the IMprove"

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sun Sep 20 16:02:01 UTC 2009

At 11:25 AM -0400 9/20/09, Benjamin Zimmer wrote:
>On Sun, Sep 20, 2009 at 10:23 AM, Laurence Horn
><laurence.horn at yale.edu> wrote:
>>  Another case of the language changing without anyone telling me about
>>  it.  Mike Francesa, on his weekly syndicated NFL preview show, just
>>  mentioned that the Oakland Raiders are "on the improve"--['Impruv],
>>  with penultimate stress as in nouns like "increase", "incline",
>>  "upswing", "uptick", etc.  Google finds "about 2,670,000" pages for
>>  "on the improve", and while many are irrelevant ("on the 'Improve
>>  Your Business' course", "based on the IMPROVE method", "on the
>>  IMPROVE steering committee", a quick estimate indicates that this
>>  leaves a million or so legitimate instances of the prepositional
>>  phrase in question.  And here I never even knew "improve" was a
>>  noun...
>Not seeing "on the improve" in any of the major dictionaries, but
>Google Books finds it in the 1978 first edition of _The Synonym
>Finder_ (Rodale, Urdang, LaRoche):
>It's listed under "on the mend," which it would seem to be modeled on.
>Citations show up back to 1819 at least:

Wow.  Whoda thunk it.  I wonder how many of these would have initial
stress.  My sense is that few would, and that the stress shift (as in
Francesa's utterance) is in part conditioned by the bisyllabic models
I mentioned (on the upswing/increase*), while "on the mend" wouldn't
help or hinder this shift.  Maybe "IMprov", as in theater, is a
factor too.


*Of course nominal "increase" isn't *always* pronounced with
forestress, but then I'd imagine neither is nominal "improve".

>1819 _Missionary Register_ Apr. 160/2 The conduct of the children,
>their improvement in learning, their cleanliness and order,
>punctuality of attention, obedience to parents and teachers,
>inoffensiveness and discreetness among themselves, all are on the
>1838 _The Lady's Book_ Jan. 30-31 Very true, mamma, but it is so
>fatiguing to be kept always on the improve.
>1839 _The Young Farmer's Manual_ 243 Thus will a piece or field of the
>best grasses be laid down permanently, and be on the improve for many
>1841 _Glenullyn_ 259 Ever sin' vice been on the improve.
>1849 _The Bunkum Flag-Staff and Independent Echo_ [mock newspaper in
>_The Knickerbocker_] 1 Oct.  336/3 Fustic on the improve.
>--Ben Zimmer
>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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