December 05, 2003

Lexicographical collages

Andrew Radford (Transformational Grammar: A First Course, Cambridge University Press, 1988) sides with the view (it's the wrong view, actually) that the difference between adjectives and adverbs is so slight and so syntactically determined that you can collapse them into one part of speech, slightly different variant forms like satisfactory and satisfactorily. being no more significant than the difference between satisfy and satisfies. But that new part of speech embracing both of them needs a name. So Radford proposes the word advective.

Funny, isn't it, how you can just look at a word and know immediately that it is not going to catch on?

It certainly hasn't caught on. Not a single scholar to my knowledge has adopted the term, or even used it a single time, though there are plenty of candidates -- syntacticians like Mark Baker who still maintain the wrong analysis that collapses adjectives and adverbs together. (The word "advective" does get thirty thousand Google hits, but only because of various irrelevant uses of the same letter sequence in senses that have a genuine Latin etymology, in fields ranging from management consulting to earth sciences and biology.)

My friend Jennifer invented a special cocktail for Thanksgiving day this year. It had cranberry juice, vodka, some kind of orangey liqueur... Quite nice. She served it to everyone, it raised the merriment and affection level of our whole gathering. She invented a name for it, too: She called it a cranberry turktail. Geddit? Not the tail of a cock, but the tail of a turkey, because it was Thanksgiving and we were eating turkey rather than chicken, and there was cranberry sauce, you see, and... That name isn't going to catch on either, is it?

I don't think so, anyway. I confidently predict that ten years from today no syntactician will be talking about advectives and no bartender will be mixing turktails around the last Thursday of November. Mark what I say. Ten years from today you can check Google (or its hypergoogolic successor) on your cell phone (or wrist watch or subcutaneous patch or whatever we're using by then), and you'll see that I'm right. I don't know what makes words catch on, but I know you can't just stick bits of other words together, however ingeniously, and expect an awed speech community to take your lexicographical collage to its bosom.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at December 5, 2003 02:09 PM