June 16, 2006

Fun: you've seen the adjective, now read the adverb!

The word fun has taken one more step on its journey from the non-count noun it once was to the regular adjective it is coming to be. Long ago it began on this path by moving on from predicative uses (that was fun) to picking up attributive modifier uses (a fun thing to do). Then it started to get adjective degree modifiers (very fun, so fun), and ultimately it began to inflect for comparative and superlative grade (there's nothing funner than that, comparative; it's the funnest thing ever, superlative). But the next step was to form a regular ly adverb. And I only recently realized that this may have already happened, two months before Language Log was founded. On April 4, 2003, a brief post on a now now possibly defunct blog quoted singer Justin Timberlake on the topic of sexual intercourse thus:

"I've been doing this since I was 15. Sex has never been taboo for me," he noted. "I enjoy it, and I praise it, and I celebrate it openly and funly."

However, the quote is falsified. Or at least, very misleadingly cropped. Here is what actually appeared in Marie Claire magazine according to this news source:

"I've been doing this since I was 15. Sex has never been taboo for me," he noted. "I enjoy it, and I praise it, and I celebrate it openly and funly — if that's a word."

If, indeed. That is the question. But the thing is, while Justin Timberlake wondered whether his neologism (the first use?) was a word, the blogger did not. He quoted the word, and used it in the title of his post ("Celebrate it funly"), without apparently having any serious doubts. This looks like the first open acceptance of the word by a native speaker who felt comfortable with it.

So we have a hypothesis about date of origin for this new evidence that fun has fully adjectivized: the adverb funly appears to have been born in the late spring of 2003 when Justin Timberlake creatively (though hesitantly) applied the standard ly-derivation process to the developing adjective fun. And at least one native speaker adopted it with no adverse symptoms.

Now, I realize that there is a high likelihood that some reader, one of Language Log's real gurus of the lexical predating game like Ben Zimmer, will now proceed to show I'm wrong by finding an earlier occurrence. But the Oxford English Dictionary will be no use (I checked). And googling will be tedious, because nearly all occurrences of funly on the web that do not pertain to the continental loose-leaf lettuce of that name are mistypings of funky (note where K and L are on your keyboard, and how clumsy and inexpert your middle and ring fingers look now you come to think of it).

Anyway, if there are prior citations, that will only make it clearer that there is a new adverb for you to use. Use it funly.

Update: The best predating I have yet seen was pointed out by John Baker on the American Dialect Society's list; it's from Google Groups, and is dated December 4, 1996:

There was a third-block long line waiting to get in. I don't know how long we were in that line, but it was not at all un- pleasant surrounded by all those good-looking, funly-dressed, tat- too'd, punctured, and friendly young people.

That seems a genuinely adverbial use, the meaning of funly-dressed being (if I may assume you understand the adjective fun), "in a fun way". If that's a good citation, we're back to 1996.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at June 16, 2006 04:10 PM