Data points: verbing 8/1/10

From Victor Steinbok:

Eugene Volokh muses on verbing “mandamus” (link).

Volokh writes:

Eugene Volokh • July 31, 2010 11:25 am

I just came across the word “mandamused” in a court opinion, so I did a couple of Westlaw searches — “mandamused” yields 238 hits, going back to the 1880s, and “mandamusing” yields 35 hits. The Oxford English Dictionary gives the first attestation as 1823 (and not even in a court case), though the sentence is a bit opaque, and possibly facetious: “If I do not ferk you out of all likelihood of ringing the beauty, why mandamus me!” (I kid you not.)

“Mandamus” [the noun] is well-known to lawyers, and it means (to quote Black’s Law Dictionary) “A writ issued by a superior court to compel a lower court or a government officer to perform mandatory or purely ministerial duties correctly.” The verb form “to mandamus X” thus naturally means “to issue a writ of mandamus ordering X to do something”; this stems from a normal process of English word formation, but I just hadn’t myself seen this before. “Mandamusing” strikes me as a little funky-looking, perhaps because it reminds someone of “musing,” though I take it that this reaction would become less common if the word becomes more common. (Naturally, I’m talking here about how common the term is among lawyers; even the much more common noun is in practice technical jargon used in a technical context.)

The OED‘s cites are all, of course, in legal contexts. Apparently the widening of the noun and verb to ordering in more general contexts hasn’t caught on.

And here’s the relevant part of OED2’s entry for the verb ferk/firk, around since Old English but now obsolete except in archaisms and (perhaps) some dialects:

2. b. With advbs.: To drive, force, or move sharply and suddenly offoutup{dag}to cut off (some one’s head). Also dial. to drive or ‘ferret’ out (vermin), to clear out (a burrow, etc.). to firk up (fig.): to stir up, rouse. {dag}to firk to death, (out) of life: to put to death.

c1400 Destr. Troy 145 He caste in his thoghte The freike vpon faire wise ferke out of lyue. Ibid 5260 With a fouchon felle to ferke of his hede. Ibid. 12191 {Th}e fell kyng of Frigie I ferkid of lyue. Ibid. 12362 With hor fos to be felly ferkit to dethe. 1610 B. JONSON Alch. II. i, He..puffes his coales, Till he firke nature vp, in her owne center. 1640 BROME Antipodes II. ii, As Tumblers doe; when betwixt every feat They gather wind, by firking up their breeches.1644 DIGBY Two Treatises (1645) I. 377 He [the badger] will pisse upon his taile, and by firking that up and downe, will make their eyes smart. 1817-8 COBBETT Resid. U.S. (1822) 249 These vermin our friend firks out(as the Hampshire people call it). 1823 New Monthly Mag. VIII. 496 If I do not ferk you out of all likelihood of ringing the beauty, why mandamus me! 1878 P. ROBINSON Indian Garden 106 Not all the marigolds of Cathay will firk up Christmas spirits. 1891 Sheffield Gloss. Suppl., Ferk, to clear out..‘Come, lass, let’s ferk all them nooks out!’

One Response to “Data points: verbing 8/1/10”

  1. Chris Says:

    “Mandamus” has thus come full circle, as it is the 1st person plural present form of the Latin verb “mando”, meaning “We command”. Presumably it originated in the days when the judicial “we” was used in judgments.

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