Advances in verbing

From Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky, a pointer to this summary of the children’s book Snook Alone, by Marilyn Nelson:

Abba Jacob lived on an island with his dog, Snook.  Each day their routine was the same.  They got up at dawn, prayed, worked together, and spent time in companionable silence together.  Sometimes there were visitors or Abba Jacob headed off to town in his car, but Snook was always there waiting for him.  Until one day, Snook and Abba Jacob headed out in a boat to help catalog plant and animal species on the islands.  Snook was along to help catch the rats and mice that were disrupting the birds and animals of the islands.  It was great micing!

Great micing! Yes, the verb mice, rather than the standard mouse, with its PRP used here in a nominal gerund.

Here are two more verbal uses:

hey bengals, next time you go rat hunting give us a yell… little foxy here LOVES going micing and ratting – he’s got rid of all of ours and its looking for some more! (link)

She has us all wrapped around her little paw! She is about 18-20 weeks old and lives in our office – she is supposed to be micing and ratting (we have a joinery shop so plenty of sawdust etc and we are next to the canal)! (link)

[Note: thanks to the fairly common verb mic (in this spelling, rather than mike), from the noun microphone, it’s very hard to search for forms of a verb mice; micing, in particular, is usually the PRP of this verb mic, which is why I ended up searching for “micing and ratting”.]

My first idea was that micing in the quotes above is a verbing of the (irregular) noun plural mice, and that might be so, but it would be extraordinary; it would be like menning the boat rather than manning the boat (or, with a regular plural, dogsing our footsteps rather than dogging our footsteps).

Another possibility builds on the fact that mice is sometimes used as a singular (as well as a plural), as in this quote:

Whenever a trap has successfully caught a mice, you should relocate the new trap so that you can successfully use it again as mice are very inquisitive and most likely check out new objects placed anywhere close to their hunting place. (link)

(Note singular mice and plural mice in close proximity.) Indeed, there are hundreds of hits for “caught a mice”.

There are even more hits for the apparent double plural mices, as in this description for the Facebook group Mouse and Rats (notice the apparently non-parallel name; it’s possible that the person who wrote the description thought that mouse and mices were alternative plurals for the singular mice!):

This group is for people who are terrified of either mices or rats. This group is also for people that hate mices and rats in general or find them rather annoying.

Alternative analyses for the “same” form are well attested in some other cases, along with occurrences of the two uses in close proximity: for example, for spam used as a singular count noun (with plural spams) and as a (singular) mass noun — and sometimes also as a zero-plural for the count noun.

It’s also possible that different people arrive at things like the PRP micing ‘mousing’ by different routes. Nothing says that there has to be a single analysis for everyone.

One Response to “Advances in verbing”

  1. John Lawler Says:

    Note that while the form “micing” is indeed strange, the agentive V-er nominalization “mouser” is an old commonplace word (though perhaps less common in some places nowadays). I’d never encountered “micer”, though, before I saw http://www.cartoonstock.com/directory/m/micer_gifts.asp

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