Friday, 22 March 2013

When a word becomes unacceptable

There's been a spate of ableist language in my life this week (that is, language that discriminates against people with disabilities).

Friday, 8 March 2013

Pub crawling

There's a game for various iDevices called The Simpsons: Tapped Out, in which you have to rebuild Springfield. It's good; I'm obsessed. 

Every now and then it gets seasonal updates, and today it got an update for St Patrick's Day, which seems to be a bigger thing in the US than it is in England, where no one particularly cares about it. (I expect they do in Ireland.) Anyway, in the game, to introduce the new storyline, Homer says this: 

Notice that he says 'The day we all pub crawl to celebrate St Patrick', using 'pub crawl' as a verb. This strikes me as ungrammatical. I'm quite fascinated by this because 'pub crawl' must certainly be a British expression, borrowed into US English for the purposes of British-style (or perhaps Irish-style, in this case) pub crawling. It's my impression that in US English, the usual term for a drinking place is a 'bar'. We do use this word in UK English too, but it's not used for the more traditional pub-type places, only for the trendier type of establishment. And of course it is the place in a pub where one is served.

So what of this 'pub crawl' verb then? Well, the origin of the expression is clear: a compound noun was formed from a zero-derivation of the verb 'crawl' plus the thing that is crawled, to indicate an occasion of 'crawling' pubs. Zero-derivation is when you change the category of a word without changing its form, and is fairly common in English for the purpose of verbing nouns and nouning verbs. This noun 'pub crawl', however, seems to have been zero-derived back again into a verb in Homer's idiolect. I don't think compound nouns are very commonly turned into verbs at all in English: we have lots of compound nouns from verbs, like tin-opener, but hardly any verbs ('babysit' is an example, backformed from 'babysitter'). In fact, Homer seems to be particularly fond of them. In my morphology class, I use an example from the Simpsons of a very rare instance of a process called 'noun incorporation', and this is an exactly comparable example, also spoken by Homer:
Did I ever tell you about the time I babyshot my boss?
Here, the instrumental noun 'baby' is incorporated into the verb, giving a complex verb 'babyshoot', meaning 'to shoot someone via one's baby'. What I want to know is who in the Simpsons writing team is putting these verbs into Homer's language? I'm a big fan of their work, whoever they are.