June 07, 2006

"Redux" in flux

News flash from the Associated Press... The Senate has rejected a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. But the more momentous news from Language Log's perspective comes in this sentence from the AP report:

The House plans a redux next month, said Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio.

That's right, redux is now a noun! (And we're not talking about appetite suppressants.) Making a verb out of a noun is one thing, but making a noun out of a postpositive adjective? Now that's innovative. Should we expect this usage to usher in a galore of lexical extraordinaires?

Actually, the AP's usage of redux to mean 'return, revival' is not particularly new, as I discovered from a quick trip to Google Book Search. Here are some predecessors:

Gerard Jones, Honey, I'm Home!: Sitcoms: Selling the American Dream (1992), p. 216
His ugly, prissy, appearance-obsessed sister-in-law, Esther, was a redux of Kingfish's wife, Sapphire.

Robert W. Love, History of the U.S. Navy, 1775-1941: Volume One (1992), p. 324
The redux of the wave then dragged her back to the coral reef at the edge of town.

Stacy Shiff, Saint-Exupery: A Biography (1994), p. 79
The room, a redux of the Bossuet desk, was an abominable mess: sheets of paper, bits of paper, balls of paper covered everything.

Linda Mizejewski, Ziegfeld Girl (1999), p. 196
The film's serious offerings of X-rated sex, especially in conjunction with its deadpan redux of All about Eve backstage jealousy, were the very terms of its campy reception.

David Foster Wallace, Brief Interviews With Hideous Men: Stories (1999), p. 245
For Sissee Nar's title role, opposite the contemporary logos-legend Vanna of the White Hands as the lunar Selene in this somewhat Sapphic redux of a well-known mini-myth, called only for catatonia.

Douglas Brode, The Films of Steven Spielberg (2000), p. 274
Dennis Quaid, as test pilot Tuck Pendelton, braces himself for a miniaturized flight into the human body in Innerspace, a comical redux of Fantastic Voyage.

Joseph A. Califano, Jr., Inside: A Public and Private Life (2004), p. 108
Negotiations between civil rights leaders and local businessmen eventually desegregated Birmingham lunch counters, but I remained fearful of a redux of Oxford as sporadic bombings and outbursts of vandalism continued.

The author of the last citation, Joseph A. Califano, Jr., is evidently an inveterate user of nominal redux. Here he is in a Washington Post column way back in 1981:

Joseph A. Califano Jr., Washington Post, May 20, 1981, p. A8
I thought it was only a matter of time before Carter and Edward Kennedy became a redux of Johnson and Robert Kennedy.

All of the above examples come in the form "(a) redux of (something)" — much rarer is the AP's usage of redux as a standalone noun not followed by "of..." It's possible to find scattered examples of this, however, as in the title of Vern Bullough's contribution to the 1996 book Desire and Discipline: Sex and Sexuality in the Premodern West (Jacqueline Murray and Konrad Eisenbichler, ed.): "Sex in History: A Redux."

Postpositive adjectives like redux constitute a peculiar word class in English. Most such adjectives are borrowings from Romance languages, especially French (à-gogo, extraordinaire, manqué, flambé). Italian, meanwhile, gives us culinary adjectives that stand for the longer expression "alla X" ('in the X style'), as in carbonara, primavera, and puttanesca.

Redux of course comes from Latin, which also supplies postpositive agonistes and redivivus. The first prominent English usage of redux was in the Latin title John Dryden bestowed on his 1660 panegyric to Charles II, Astraea Redux. By the late 19th century redux could be used as a postmodifier for English proper nouns, as in Anthony Trollope's Phineas Redux (1873). And a century later John Updike gave redux a big boost with the second book in his "Rabbit" series, Rabbit Redux (1971). More recently, Francis Ford Coppola revisited his 1979 movie Apocalypse Now with a bigger, longer, uncut version, Apocalypse Now: Redux (2001).

So now that redux is noun, the next obvious step is to verb it. Oops, too late! There are more than a 1,000 Googlehits for reduxing, including this 2002 New York Times headline: "It's the Forsytes, Reduxing Again."

[Checking the OED, I see that galore was nominalized quite a long time ago, as in this 1849 cite from George F. Ruxton's Life in the Far West: "Galore of alcohol to ratify the trade." Galore, by the way, derives from the Irish adverbial phrase go leór 'enough' (lit. 'to sufficiency').]

Posted by Benjamin Zimmer at June 7, 2006 01:20 PM