timesuck the verb?

A couple days ago on Facebook, in a comment on derogatory suck, Ann Burlingham expressed delight that timesuck has become a verb. Well, maybe the celebration is a bit premature.

Here’s the current state of things as I know it:

(1) There’s a verb-object idiom suck time ‘use up much time’ (metaphorical in origin), attested in gigantic numbers.

(2) There’s a N-V compound count noun timesuck ‘activity using up much time’, attested in hefty numbers.

(3) There’s a synthetic compound timesucking, a PRP verb form, used most often adjectivally (especially as a prenominal modifier, but also as a predicative), also occasionally in the progressive verb construction and as a nominal gerund.

(4) There’s a synthetic compound timesucker a noun meaning ‘something that sucks time’, with a fair number of attestations.

(5) There’s a synthetic compound timesucked, a PSP verb form attested in the perfect and passive verb constructions (but not, so far as I can see, in adjectival uses).

(6) As far as I can tell, there are no attested uses of a verb timesuck in the BSE form (infinitival to timesuck, imperative, etc.) or in finite forms (PRS timesuck, timesucks, PST timesucked).

I’ll illustrate points (1)-(5) first and then ask what all this might mean.

On suck time (point (1)):

Google sucks my time. (link)

Being a freelance musician and entrepreneur is not an easy life-style. It requires a lot of planning and organizing, and that alone sucks a lot of time and energy. (link)

busy work and life schedule sucks all your time leaving only brief snatches of time for anything else (link)

On the count noun timesuck (point (2)):

[Paul McFedries, Word Spy entry for timesuck] n. An activity that uses up large amounts of time. [example] “The telephone is a major timesuck. The time-management experts say that you shouldn’t reflexively answer your phone, but this requires strength of character, a steel-hardened sense of priorities, and I am, at core, hideously feeble. The worst timesucks are the human variety, rogue timesuckers moving through the office, mouths agape, poised to suck time like whales swallowing krill.” (link)

Wordle: It’s a Timesuck. (link)

[on Len Peralta comic villain TimeSuck] Name: TimeSuck 
Power: Make tasks take 10x longer than they seem to 
Weakness: Power Failure (link)

For your entertainment, here’s Peralta’s drawing of the villainous TimeSuck:

On the synthetic compound timesucking (point (3)):

[prenominal modifier] facebook….innocent friendship forum or timesucking den of distraction?? (link)

[prenominal modifier] Grace Kelly in “Rear Window” on the blithely timesucking clothesonfilm.com (link)

[predicative] My first real Linux experience – timesucking but cool (link)

[nominal gerund] Timesucking is a major issue with everyone trying to be productive. (link)

[progressive] So here’s the deal: I was timesucking at YouTube the other day and I ran across a Jim Breuer video. (link)

On the synthetic compound timesucker (point (4)):

She sent me a link to 42goals, a site which I didn’t even know existed an hour ago, but it looks like another timesucker and OCD-enabler. (link)

Please stop by and say hello! I, meanwhile, will be continuing the great timesucker, posting my guest blog at a whole bunch of groups and hoping someone notices. (link)

And on the synthetic compound timesucked (point (5)):

[perfect] lol bb, you have no idea, tumblr has timesucked at least a year out of my life (link)

[passive] It’s T-storming outside, so now I’ve decided not to come in to work for the weekend and get timesucked into your linkspam. Yay! (link)

It all starts with the verb-object idiom suck time in (1), which serves as the basis for the N-V compound noun in (2) and the synthetic compounds in (3)-(5).

N-V compounds incorporate (i) a subject N for the V (earthquake); (ii) a direct object N for the V (chimney sweep, time stamp); or (iii) an oblique (normally P-marked) object or adjunct N for the V (pub-crawl, homework). The compound timesuck in (2) is of type (ii), incorporating the direct object N time of the V suck.

Synthetic compounds incorporate a non-subject N for a V (hence are parallel to types (ii) and (iii) above), but they do so with the addition of suffixal morphology — a PRP suffix as in (3), the agentive/instrumental -er suffix as in (4), or a PSP suffix as in (5) — the result being a word with the syntax appropriate to the suffix (a PRP form in (3), an agentive/instrumental noun in (4), a PSP form in (5)).

Note that PRP and PSP forms are multi-functional; they each have several different syntactic functions, and synthetic compounds of these types are multi-functional as well. PRP synthetic compounds are most often nominal in function (spear-fishing, trout-fishing, etc. are mostly used as nouns, though they can have other uses as well), but depending on the semantic relationship between the contributing V and N, the facts of the real world, and sociocultural practices, other uses may predominate — as they do in the case of timesucking, which occurs most often as a modifier of a N denoting something that sucks time.

A crucial fact about synthetic compounds is that they don’t imply the existence of a “source” N-V verb, though one can be innovated by back-formation from the synthetic compound. So the synthetic compounds babysitting and babysitter were around for some time before babysit came into being; there are hundreds of similar cases, plus many synthetic compounds that haven’t given rise (as yet) to a back-formed N-V verb. Timesucking, timesucker, and timesucked don’t seen to have led to a back-formed verb timesuck, but if people find the word useful, eventually it will get created. (I don’t feel the need for it myself, but maybe there are people who want to say things like We timesucked all night or We timesucked the night away.)

But wait, there’s more; there’s another possible source for a verb timesuck, namely direct conversion of the noun timesuck in (2): verbing!

Compound nouns can be verbed (a verb mommy track is attested, for example); in particular, N-V nouns can be verbed, as timestamp has been (We timestamped the forms), so in principle the noun timesuck could be, with a meaning something like ‘engage in timesucks’ (not very different from the meaning of a back-formed intransitive verb timesuck). Apparently it hasn’t happened yet, but it could.

2 Responses to “timesuck the verb?”

  1. Ben Zimmer Says:

    Base verb forms are out there, though rare:

    “Well, its fun to be the person to keep people in the loop of new and exciting things that will timesuck even more of your day.”
    http://www.lbd-theblog.com/2010/11/google-have-you-done-it-again.html

    “Dungeon Raid 1.3, digital crack continues to timesuck”

    “…but for most writers even getting good enough at design to make merch worth purchasing would be another whole thing that would timesuck from what we actually do best.”
    http://epershand.dreamwidth.org/38262.html?thread=127094

    And all of this of course reminds me of my LL post, “Unsucking the suck” (esp. the suggestion that “timesuck” could represent a denominal verb):

    http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=3099

Leave a Reply to Ben Zimmer Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: