[Ads-l] to truth-tell

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Wed Dec 2 21:05:34 UTC 2020

> On Dec 2, 2020, at 3:34 PM, Baker, John <JBAKER at STRADLEY.COM> wrote:
> No verb “to truth”?  What, was Nancy Sinatra (or, actually, Lee Hazlewood, her lyricist) committing a neologism when she sang, “You keep lying, when you oughta be truthin'”?  (In These Boots Are Made for Walkin’ (1965), for those who don’t recognize the lyric.)

Yup, I recall.  And yes, neologizing—helped along by syntagmatic priming (as you also note below), as with other innovative formations (“unX” verbs primed by “X” verbs, “-ee” nominals primed by nearby -er agentives, etc.) 

A nice example of the former is “unprovoke”.  The sole cite in the OED:

PORTER. Drink, sir, is a great provoker of three things...nose-painting, sleep, and urine. Lechery, sir, it provokes, and unprovokes; it provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance.

—Macbeth II.iii

Other instances of primed unverbs, none of which are likely to occur unprimed:


Josh:       You should come over later.
Donna:    That’s sweet, but I can’t.
Josh:       I thought the twitchy chick from Treasury was in at your place.
Donna:    She is.  So I asked CJ if I could stay with her.
Josh:       So unask.
—exchange on “The West Wing”, 9 April 2006


“We can’t make it”, Sam said flatly.
“But I’ve already accepted...I know I should have checked with you first, but by accident somehow I just went ahead and accepted.”
“Well then”, he said, “you’ll just have to call her back and unaccept.”
         —Anne Tyler (1995), Ladder of Tears, p. 22


Nana:     “You know, love is messy.”
Dan:       “I should know better. I hurt my kids.”
Nana:     “Well, unhurt them.”
         —Dan in Real Life, 2007 movie


She pinches and unpinches a crease in her lower lip.
         —James Hynes (2010), Next (a novel); note that (un)pinch is telic here


 “I tried to ignore it, the staring, but ever since Christmas, with the guitar, and the singing and the stolen looks, well, I noticed it, and I can’t…unnotice it.”
—Dr. Arizona Robbins to Dr. Teddy Altman, “Grey’s Anatomy”, March 4, 2009


I saved your life, I’d be happy to unsave it.
            —House to Cuddy’s mother, “House”, 2 May 2011

> The OED has truth, v., from 1888 when used in the sense of “to tell the truth,” although the usage is disparagingly tagged as “US colloquial and regional” and it mainly seems to be used in contrast to lie, v.
> John Baker
> From: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU> On Behalf Of Laurence Horn
> Sent: Wednesday, December 2, 2020 1:52 PM
> Subject: Re: to truth-tell
> External Email - Think Before You Click
> Well, extrapolating from Mark’s original post, I’d say it’s blocked by the verb “to lie”, while there’s no corresponding verb “to truth”. Not clear what “to lie-tell” would communicate that “to lie” wouldn’t.
> LH
>> On Dec 2, 2020, at 1:39 PM, Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM<mailto:wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM>> wrote:
>> Any Google hits for to "lie-tell"?
>> If not, why not?
>> JL
>> On Wed, Dec 2, 2020 at 9:40 AM MULLINS, WILLIAM D (Bill) CIV USARMY CCDC
>> AVMC (USA) <0000099bab68be9a-dmarc-request at listserv.uga.edu<mailto:0000099bab68be9a-dmarc-request at listserv.uga.edu>> wrote:
>>>> Although if we stick to the transitive verb construction (as I suspect
>>> JL would have us do),
>>>> we have the nice minimal pair:
>>>> "to tell *the* truth” vs. “to tell *a* lie”
>>>> —lots of alternatives to the truth, but no alternative truths (or facts)
>>> Which is why the "tell my truth", "tell her truth" construction is so
>>> rankling, I suppose.
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>> "If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the truth."
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