to name-check

Following up on my shout-out posting, here’s another innovative formation, formally very different from N + Prt composites, but with some overlap in meaning: the two-part back-formed verb to name-check.

It started with e-mail from a correspondent whose name I mentioned in a posting:

… it’s an honor to be name-checked by you.

This is a back-formation from a compound noun name-checking (parallel to name-drop back-formed from the compound name-dropping ‘dropping names’), in the sense ‘mention someone less famous than you’ — so being name-checked (in my correspondent’s usage) is being mentioned by someone more famous than you.  In this usage, it’s the social inverse of name-drop (and name-checking is the social inverse of name-dropping).

(All the expressions I’m going to talk about here are sometimes written with hyphens, sometimes as separated words, and sometimes solid.)

But there’s more.

To start with, there’s another, much more transparent (and presumably much older) use of the compound noun name-checking ‘checking names’ (in ordinary English and in specialized technical uses in computer contexts). Such a use, being so transparent, is not in the OED, though the June 2003 draft revision does have the compound noun namecheck, glossed as:

orig. and chiefly U.S. An official check on a person’s credentials, esp. for reasons of security or criminal investigation

And there’s now a back-formed verb namecheck in this sense (though it’s not yet in the OED), as in:

Do you know anything about the way to contact fbi to name check oursevles? [that is, check our own names] have you heard about that? (link)

So much for the more transparent uses of these expressions.  Now on to the family of ‘mention’ uses, of which my correspondent’s use above is one.

Things seem to have begun with a generalized ‘mention’ sense of checking and check.  The OED (June 2003) has the noun namecheck in this sense (‘A public mention or listing of the name of a person or thing, esp. in acknowledgement of an individual contribution or for publicity purposes; an acknowledgement by name’), with cites from 1972 through 1996, both British and American.

Already in this definition is the idea of not only mentioning, but singling out for mention.  This component continues in some uses of the back-formed verb namecheck, as in this comment on Billie Jean King:

I think it’s the responsibilty of the players themselves and the public to deal with someone coming out. I think it’s a bit strange to name check certain players [Federer, Nadal] as if they are holding people back because they don’t fly the rainbow flag prior to someone coming out. (link)

This in response to:

[Billie Jean] King also says that while she’s known gay male tennis players, there needs to be support from the athletes at the top of the game for them to be able to come out … [King mentions Federer and Nadal as two relevant athletes at the top of the game]

The OED has a treatment (June 2008) of the generalized ‘mention’ sense of the verb — ‘to mention or acknowledge by name’ — with cites from 1986 through 1999.

At this point, things get much more complicated.  The Urban Dictionary lists two more specialized senses for namecheck(ing), which unfortunately are virtually opposites of one another: in my correspondent’s use as above, and as a rough synonym for namedrop(ping), as in the following review of a Chris Cagle album:

Cagle delivers a decent country performance on the title track that goes on to name-check too many artists … [verb use]

and in this comment on it:

I would actually single out the same three tracks at the end, with the same caveat about too much name-checking. Name-checking is a pet peeve of mine. (link) [noun use]

There are also a modest number of cites about rappers’ name-checking various famous people, cites in which it’s not entirely clear that the mentions of these people count as name-dropping (or are simply references to people in the news), as in:

And, the medal for fastest rapper to name-check [Olympic gold medalist] Usain Bolt goes to… [Wale]

… On a related note, Wale may also hold the record for the first rapper to name-check Michael Phelps, way back in 2005 (link)

(This posting is a lightly edited version of a posting to ADS-L on 11 May.)

3 Responses to “to name-check”

  1. Joe Clark Says:

    I don’t think the definition is really quite accurate. Name-drop suggests inflating your own status through the names you drop. Name-check suggests acknowledging the people who got you where you are. The people Oscar winners name onstage are being name-checked, par exemple.

  2. arnoldzwicky Says:

    To Joe Clark: there is no the definition. I first described the sense that my correspondent used (he confirmed that this was the sense he intended) and then listed a series of other senses, including the ‘acknowledgment by name’ sense you give. It’s clear that different people use the word in different ways.

  3. arnoldzwicky Says:

    Jan Freeman wrote a column on the verb back in 2006. She described a series of senses, ending up what a range of uses that she took to be currently prevalent (including a connection to shout-out):

    What niche is name-check filling? For one, it’s a nicer sort of name-dropping; unlike the social climber, a name-checker is usually as famous as the checkee, if not more so. It’s a muted version of the shout-out, born circa 1990; a passing mention, a tiny tribute, a pufflet. It’s a tip of the hat for a generation that, if it weren’t for Turner Classic Movies, might not know what a hat tip is.

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