June 18, 2006

My pop adjective

In reponse to the recent post about Doonesbury's generalizing the idiom "my bad" to "my brave", Mark McConville sent in a reference to a 2004 song by REM, "Leaving New York", which includes the passage

You might have laughed if I told you
You might have hidden a frown
You might have succeeded in changing me
I might have been turned around
It's easier to leave than to be left behind
Leaving was never my proud
Leaving New York, never easy
I saw the light fading out

The "leaving was never my proud" line seems to be genuinely part of the lyric, not a mondegreen: listen for yourself (the full version is here).

If this is the same construction, it's a more interesting variant, since it's integrated into a sentence (as a predicate nominal) rather than being used an isolated fragment, as it is in the usual "my bad" = "my mistake" pattern, and also in the Doonesbury "my brave" example.

But it's not clear that it's the same thing. In "my bad" (and "my brave"), I've always assumed that it's what I did that's bad (or brave), not me -- though I suppose that some transitivity of responsibility applies. However, in "leaving was never my proud", it's got to be me that's (not) proud, not leaving that's proud (or not).

All the same, I wonder what else is out there in the way of possessive_pronoun+adjective noun phrases.

[Pekka Karjalainen writes:

That line with "my proud" is also printed in the lyrics sheet that comes with the CD.

I discovered that my REM collection was dusty. Horror!


[Update: the "never my proud" line was discussed in a Rolling Stone interview, reproduced here:

Q)There's a recurring line in the new single "Leaving New York" where you sing, "Leaving was never my proud." What does that mean, exactly?

JMS)It's ungrammatical, and I had a discussion with [bassist] Mike Mills about it, but the feeling was that the line said what I wanted it to say, so I stuck with it.


[Update -- Adam Cooper sent in another REM lyric, Fretless, which he observes "[is] not an example of the "my proud" construction but ... interesting nevertheless" because "in the the last verse is the line 'Don't threaten me with angry'":

Reach for each other before you leave Reach peace with an E-A-C Don't threaten me with a gentle tease Don't threaten me with angry Please, please, please Don't try to tell me what I am

It suggests that uses adjectives for nouns -- especially when they rhyme better -- might be a standard lyrical trope for Michael Stipe.]

Posted by Mark Liberman at June 18, 2006 10:40 PM