-ground-

Susan Dominus, “A Teenager’s Protest March, Mighty but Strictly Virtual” (NYT, January 16), reports on 15-year-old Tess Chapin’s campaign to be released from parental grounding (for five weeks, for “drinking at a party and missing her 11:30 curfew by an hour”). The campaign is entirely electronic — carried on in a Facebook group she created for the purpose. Dominus’s story quotes two bits of morphological inventiveness, the verb unground and the noun groundation.

The Facebook group is called “1000 to get tess ungrounded”. On it, she pleads, “please join so I can convince them [her parents] to unground me. please please please.” Here we have reversative un- creatively deployed, not a great surprise in a world that already has the verb unfriend (built on the verb friend).

And she refers to her grounding as her “groundation”, attaching the complex abstract-noun-forming suffix -ation to the verb ground. There are many models for this: ferment-ation, present-ation, quot-ation ‘act of quoting’, permut-ation, detest-ation, etc. What makes ground-ation stand out is that the verb ground is so clearly from the “Anglo-Saxon” stratum of the vocabulary rather than the “Latinate” stratum (including words that came to English via French). One result of this is that groundation is noticeable as an innovation, and also somewhat playful in character.

(Note that there are often subtle differences in meaning and use between the nominal gerund V-ing and the derived noun V-ation. These might carry over to grounding vs. groundation.)

A note on the verb ground as used in the NYT story. The noun ground has been verbed many times since Middle English. A relatively recent verbing is in the sense ‘keep on the ground, prevent an aircraft, pilot, etc. from flying’, attested in OED2 from 1931 on, with a metaphorical extension (originally U.S.) to the sense ‘confine (a child) to his or her home outside school hours, as a punishment’ (OED draft addition of May 2003, with cites from 1953 on).

As for Tess, her impassioned plea argues against her groundation in terms that should be familiar to anyone who’s dealt with teenagers or watched episodes of the television series 7th Heaven:

how much genuine remorse she had already expressed, her inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness, other parents’ more lax standards, the injustice of so heavy a punishment for a first-time offense.

4 Responses to “-ground-”

  1. mollymooly Says:

    Neologisms of the Anglic root + classical suffix pattern have been used as signs of stupidity in several US sitcoms: Joey from “Friends”, while shamming as a doctor, coined “foodal chokage”; Malory from “Family Ties”, while trying to sound clever, coined “smartitude”.

  2. Aron Says:

    The word ‘groundation’ might be creative but it is hardly new: More than 20 years ago Bill Cosby uses it on ‘The Cosby Show’ in the episode ‘Vanessa’s bad grade’.

  3. arnoldzwicky Says:

    To Aron: I suppose I now should insert a standard file that says that when I report having noticed something, I’m not claiming it had never occurred before I noticed it.

    The polite way to phrase what you wanted to say is not as a slam on what I said, but just as a note that there are antecedents.

    I did do a search on groundation, but got so overwhelming a number of hits on the band Groundation that I just gave up.

  4. Xin Says:

    Hello Professor Zwicky,
    (I’m in your Ling 219 class)

    I just remember a proper noun usage of “Groundation” as a traditional ceremony of the Rastas from the Rastafari movement. Honestly, it doesn’t have anything to do with the present day use of the word, though…

    Article where it was used: http://www.newleftreview.org/?view=1907

Leave a Reply


%d bloggers like this: