On the noun watch

A nouning, open (in a cold open), and a mass-to-count conversion, a slang ‘a slang word/expression’, that recently came to my attention, plus a digression on the nouning reveal and a bonus find of new uses of lingo.

1. Open. A cold open is explained in this Wikipedia entry (as of November 29) as follows:

A cold open (also called a teaser) in a television program or movie is the technique of jumping directly into a story at the beginning or opening of the show, before the title sequence or opening credits are shown. On television this is often done on the theory that involving the audience in the plot as soon as possible will reduce the likelihood of their switching away from a show.

(The article, which gives quite a few examples, notes that “Cold opens have been popular on television since the 1950s.”)

That is, in a cold open (also referred to as a cold opening) there is no metaphorical “warming up”, in particular no framing titles or credits or other information at the beginning of the show or movie. A cold open is then closely related to (but not the same as) the literary device of beginning a story in medias res.

There are, of course, many ways of negotiating beginnings short of starting completely cold. Time and place might be explicitly labeled (“North Africa, 1944”). On television and in the movies, time and place might be communicated by a framing shot (in, say, aerial shots or street scenes of New York City in the 1950s). The series itself might be identified by a theme song, played before titles appear. In tv series, the current episode might be linked to the previous one by re-playing bits of a few scenes. And so on.

Opening cold has, or at least can have, the virtue of vividness, by plunging the viewer, listener, or reader into situations and events. On the other hand, opening cold makes people do more work to understand what they’re experiencing. Both implicit and explicit presentation have their advantages and disadvantages.

2. Reveal. Language Log has been on to “media” nounings, in particular in Mark Liberman’s discussion of the big reveal a while back. Mark pointed out that the nouning reveal ‘revelation, disclosure’ has a long history, but its specialization in media contexts seems to be (relatively) recent.

Here’s what I pulled up on ADS-L in February of this year: first, an example:

There was insufficient lead-up to the reveal at the end and the perpetual name-droppingness of all the references was supremely annoying. (link)

and then some discussion from a site on tv tropes:

The pivot in any plotline is often The Reveal. A character is revealed as another character’s mother, a god, or secret suitor or arch nemesis in disguise. More broadly, the audience is given new information which had been withheld to create suspense. The Reveal changes the nature of the plot, often pushing it from suspense towards action. A good reveal will also create a new set of questions and further suspense.

The site goes on:

Aristotle referred to it as anagnorisis (generally translated as “discovery” or “recognition”) in his Poetics … He considered it one of the hallmarks of a superior play.

Ben Zimmer traced it back at least as far as a 1975 description of Allen Funt’s “Candid Camera”:

1975 New Times 4 (Jan-Jun) 52 But now the final coup, Allen’s trademark– the “reveal.” “Madame, did you know that at this moment you are on nationwide TV?”

and it might be older than that.

3. Slang. Slang ‘slang word’ is a M>C conversion with some similarity to the nouning of the verb swear as a count noun swear ‘swear word’, discussed on Language Log here.

Some examples:

‘A monkey on one’s back’, which maybe considered a slang, is used to denote an addiction to a drug or an enduring and often vexing habit or urge … (link)

A slang is a rather informal use of language when you are talking to someone. Often you hear “cops” which is a general slang for “police officers” and that is an example of slang in general use. “Doc” can meant “doctor”, “Professor” and even a “PhD” holder. (link) [note C uses and an M use together in the same passage]

What are the most commonly used teenage slangs? (link)

What are some gay slangs? (link)

When this usage came up of ADS-L in August 2008, Grant Barrett observed:

In Singapore, India, and other English-speaking parts of Asia “slang” is a count noun, not simply a mass noun. I come across such uses by the bucket-loads, even in edited, professional newspapers.

4. A bonus: lingo. The ADS-L discussion of C slang led to this wonderful find:

In this thread by Emmafan911, she asked you guys what slangs do u guys use a lot. I read your replies, and I just want to straighten something out.

Here are examples of slangs:
-whatevs
-yo
-toodles
-peeps

Here are what you guys thought were slangs:
-LOL
-OMG
-G2G
-IDK
These are called lingos.

Slangs are words that we use a lot but are not in the dictionaries. Lingos are abbreviations you guys use mostly online and they’re not in dictionaries either. Slangs are not abbreviations. (link)

There is of course a C noun lingo, glossed by NOAD2 as ‘a foreign language or local dialect’. But there’s also a M noun lingo, glossed by NOAD2 as ‘the vocabulary or jargon of a particular subject or group of people’; this is presumably the ultimate source of the innovative C lingo. The intermediate step is the specialization of M lingo to refer specifically to the body of on-line abbreviations (especially initialisms). And the final step is countification, as with C slang.

6 Responses to “On the noun watch”

  1. John Cowan Says:

    Cold opens are considered standard practice in science-fiction and fantasy fiction: you don’t start a story with an explanation of the way the world works and all the amazing (new, in the case of sf) things in it.

  2. arnoldzwicky Says:

    On countification, with discussion of C porn, porno, and folklore, as well as C slang (how quickly I forget), see here.

  3. mollymooly Says:

    Based on heroically little evidence, I surmise that US English is quicker than British English to countify. Apart from “pornos”, you have “Legos” and Marge Simpson’s characterisation of David Mamet’s oeuvre as full of “swears”.

    @John Cowan: What about “Space: the final frontier….” and “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…”?

  4. John Cowan Says:

    I was speaking of prose fiction. I’ll see your film openings and raise you with:

    The door dilated.

    He woke, and remembered dying.

    The manhunt extended across more than one hundred light years and eight centuries.

    Un and Sub, the giants, are grinding him for food.

    It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

    Before entering the supreme council room, Gabriel Baines sent his Mans-made simulacrum clacking ahead to see if by chance it might be attacked.

    Walking up the wall had been hard, but walking across the ceiling was proving to be impossible.

    Zeus showed up one night at the sex addiction meeting in the basement of Christ Lutheran Church.

    Once upon a time there was a Martian called Valentine Michael Smith.

  5. Postings on nounings « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] 11/30/09: On the noun watch (link) nouning of open and […]

  6. The big reveal « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] but marked “rare”. But as Mark Liberman pointed out on Language Log in 2004 and I noted on this blog in 2009, it’s rare no more, at least in certain contexts: it’s quite common in media […]

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