October 29, 2007

Statured pitchers, statured scientists

Continuing the baseball theme... Super-agent Scott Boras announced last night that Alex Rodriguez would opt out of his contract with the New York Yankees and declare free agency. Boras (who conveniently made the bombshell announcement during the final game of the World Series) told the Associated Press that A-Rod opted out because he was uncertain whether Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte would return to the Yankees:

"Alex's decision was one based on not knowing what his closer, his catcher and one of his statured pitchers was going to do," Boras said. "He really didn't want to make any decisions until he knew what they were doing."

This isn't the first time Boras has referred to a baseball player as statured:

Anytime we assume that an amateur player will be a statured major league player, that expectation is to the detriment of the player. ... A statured player like Pujols would be at the top of the market with his historic performance. (Baseball Prospectus online chat, Aug. 9, 2005)

I think the New York fan is a special fan. They expect their team to win, and when the team doesn't win, the statured players are the ones they point to. (New York Post, Feb. 7, 2007)

I haven't spoke to John in well over a year, which is contrary to what general managers do when they have statured players on their team. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Oct. 2, 2007)

Statured almost always appears as the second half of a hyphenated compound, with the preceding modifier denoting an extreme of height or build (small/large, short/tall, high/low) or else something in between (mid, middle, medium, average, normal, full). Boras' use of bare statured may be his own particular verbal mannerism, or perhaps he's a fan of E.O. Wilson.

The relevant sense of statured pops up in some older dictionaries — the Century Dictionary (1889-91) gives one definition as "of or arrived at full stature," while Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913) has "arrived at full stature." Webster included this sense in his 1828 dictionary, but said it was "little used" even then. Over the years the word has shown up primarily in poetic usage:

Lo, as I gaze, the statured man,
Built up from yon large hand, appears
A type that Nature wills to plan
But once in all a people's years.
"The Hand of Lincoln," Edmund Clarence Steadman (1897)

When Edward O. Wilson published Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge in 1998, consilience (meaning the "jumping together" of scientific knowledge) wasn't the only rare old word that he revived for his argument. In his discussion of the climate crisis, he wrote:

Some will, of course, call this synopsis "environment alarmism." I earnestly wish that accusation were true. Unfortunately, it is the reality-grounded opinion of the overwhelming majority of statured scientists who study the environment. By statured scientists I mean those who collect and analyze the data, build the theoretical models, interpret the results, and publish articles vetted for professional journals by other experts, often including their rivals. I do not mean by statured scientists the many journalists, talk-show hosts, and think-tank polemicists who also address the environment, even though their opinions reach a vastly larger audience. (p. 307)

The turn of phrase "statured scientists" is not original to Wilson, however, since he was apparently echoing the sentiment of the Chairman of the Advisory Committee on the Environment of the International Committee of Scientific Unions, James McCarthy, as quoted in Ross Gelbspan's 1997 book The Heat Is On: The High Stakes Battle over Earth's Threatened Climate:

"There is no debate among any statured scientists of what is happening," says McCarthy. By "statured" scientists he means those who are currently engaged in relevant research and whose work has been published in the referred scientific journals. (p. 22)

The McCarthy/Wilson/Boras usage of bare statured moves the word away from what the Oxford English Dictionary terms "parasynthetic derivatives," i.e., "compounds one of whose elements includes an affix which relates in meaning to the whole compound; e.g. black-eyed ‘having black eyes’ where the suffix of the second element, -ed (denoting ‘having’), applies to the whole, not merely to the second element." Linguablogger Brett Reynolds recently explored compounds of this type in two posts on English, Jack, citing the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (p. 1709) for the treatment of the -ed suffix in such formations.

Statured, when used on its own, joins other examples of X-ed meaning 'possessing or characterized by X' such as moneyed or cultured. (See also Mark Liberman's commentary on faithed.) But statured strikes me as a bit peculiar, since it's typically associated with adjectives of size, similar to other parasynthetic derivatives like (large/small)-sized or (large/small)-framed. We wouldn't expect sized or framed to appear on its own to mean 'having a full size/frame.' But perhaps statured can take on the extended meaning because the base form stature already sounds somewhat big and important, as opposed to the more neutral-sounding size or frame.

Then again, though we don't find people described as sized without a preceding modifier, we do find the faux-PC-ism person of size, a riff on person of color. And what do you know, in an interview with the New York Post about A-Rod, Scott Boras used "pitcher of stature" rather than "statured pitcher":

We just weren't prepared to make an economic decision like this until we knew the philosophy of the club and what was happening with key players. We are talking about a pitcher of stature, a catcher and a closer.

I like that construction better, if only because it lends itself to a bit of doggerel:

Rub-a-dub-dub, three men on a club.
And who do you think they be?
A closer, a catcher, a pitcher of stature,
But who will remain a Yankee?

(Need to work on the scansion of that last line.)

Posted by Benjamin Zimmer at October 29, 2007 11:56 AM