November 16, 2005

The past, present, and future of readying

There are more developments on tracking the incipient verb ready, both in the prehistory and the present and the likely future. Chris Waigl has researched the palaeontology of the transitive construction and has come up with some examples showing that it was coming into the language a hundred or even two hundred years ago. And Marilyn Martin at Cornell University has been searching for further modern cases of ready as an infinitival complement-taking verb, and has found oodles of them.

One of Chris Waigl's old transitive examples is from a poem in London's Cockney dialect, and has readied up in the sense of "prepared":

I've crawled; I've eaten dirt; I've lied a treat;
I've dodged the cops an' led a double life;
I've readied up wild tales to tell me wife...
(C.J. Dennis (1924), Rose of Spadgers, )

And another case of transitive ready with this meaning, even older, is found in a 19th-century reference to the practice of fixing a warm steak for supper by (and I admit this sounds unappetizing) putting it under the saddle of your horse and riding hard on it for a day:

Can a Tartar be said to cook, when he only readies his steak by riding on it?
(Thomas Carlyle (1831), Sartor Resartus: The Life and Opinions of Herr Teufelsdrockh, )

(The method, which I have heard gauchos in Argentina have also used, lends new meaning to the term "rump steak". Nude bareback riders, please do not try this at home.)

Meanwhile, Marilyn Martin was searching for further modern cases of ready as an infinitival complement-taking verb, and has found as many as 244 Google hits just for the phrase "as they ready to". Here are some of her examples:

As they sit down, as they rest, as they watch TV, as they read, as they get nervous, as they get excited, as they ready to go. (

Faith is that which brings joy to the heart's of people who lie on their death beds as they ready to make their imminent voyage into Eternity. (

Chekov volunteers himself and a few journalists as a fill-in medical staff as they ready to help the stricken El-Aurians. (

The Bowery Ballroom is packed for stellastarr*, and it's only 9 pm While the band seems a bit nervous as they ready to rip into their opening numbers, ... (

IT staff will set up specific installation dates with each area as they ready to install in an area. (

But as they ready to embark on the journey, Lackland is unaware that Barlennan has his own secret motives for wanting to find the rocket. (

sound check as they ready to rock The Joint in the city of sin - Las Vegas. (

The fish gather at the mouth of Nit Nat Lake where it opens into the ocean as they ready to go up to the river to spawn. (

. . . and in full song as they ready to breed (

What do we learn from all this? That there is always more going on as regards changes in the English language than you can shake a stick at. That language truly is always in flux. That everything you thought was new has older roots. That these days anyone with a serious interest can make new linguistic discoveries making use of web resources. That lexical investigations need to be done by collaborative teams of people. That there are huge amounts of energy and intelligence to be tapped into out there in cyberlingspace. That these days you can post on Language Log, go get a latte at the Starbucks on the ground floor of One Language Log Plaza, and come back to find three emails have come in correcting errors you made or adding to the data you found. These and all sorts of other things are what we learn. We learn such things every day. Even while we're downstairs getting a cup of coffee.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at November 16, 2005 11:34 PM