Zippy goes zip-lining

Only Thursday, but here’s a cartoon for the weekend, with Zippy out on the line and going to extremities:

The word zip-lining was new to me, but I’ve seen people doing it in films, and I’ve seen P.D.Q. Bach make a zip-line entrance from the balcony to the stage  (it’s not something that an acrophobe like me would do willingly).

The Wikipedia entry for zip-line tells you more than you probably want to know; some samples:

zip-line (also known as a flying foxfoefie slidezip wireaerial runwayaerial ropeslidedeath slide or tyrolean crossing) consists of a pulley suspended on a cable mounted on an incline. It is designed to enable a user propelled by gravity to traverse from the top to the bottom of the inclined cable, usually made of stainless steel, by holding on or attaching to the freely moving pulley. Zip-lines come in many forms, most often used as a means of entertainment. They may be short and low, intended for child’s play and found on some playgrounds. Longer and higher rides are often used as a means of accessing remote areas, such as a rainforest canopy.

… The zip-wire is not a recent invention. Referred to as “an inclined strong,” one appears in The Invisible Man by H.G Wells, published in 1897, as part of a Whit-Monday fair.

But what about the word, professor, what about the word?

Well, there are (at least) three words here: the compound noun zip-line, the compound noun zip-lining, and the (intransitive) verb zip-line. None of them is in the OED (yet), or in the usual reputable sources I look at. (As usual, all three occur spelled solid, with a hyphen, and as two words; I won’t distinguish these orthographic variants.) The first two are very frequent on the web, and the third isn’t rare. A few examples of the verb:

I am not a risk-taker, but my kids wanted to zip-line [in Jamaica]. (link)

Every night the Magic Kingdom puts on a fireworks show at this castle. And every night a lady dressed as Tinkerbell has to zip line down the side of the castle. (link)

The historical relationships between these items aren’t entirely clear, though the noun zip-line could just be a V+N compound ‘line for zipping on (from place to place)’ (compare fish house, wash house, etc.), which would make it, analytically, if not historically, the source. (The verb zip ‘to move briskly or with speed’, attested since at least 1852, might be derived ultimately from the sound-imitative noun zip.) The verb zip-line might be the most recent of the three, but if so it could have arisen either by direct verbing of the noun zip-line or by back-formation from the compound zip-lining. But where, in any case, did zip-lining come from?

None of this can be settled without the careful accumulation of dated citations and their interpretation in context, of course. Meanwhile, Zippy zip-lines on, perhaps to disaster.

One Response to “Zippy goes zip-lining”

  1. Power postcard « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] power, massage power. (On some V + N compounds, see this posting on cry face and its relatives and this mention of fish house, wash house, and the […]

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