It starts with this sentence from a February 5th New York Times Magazine story, “The Hard Way Out of Afghanistan” by Luke Mogelson, on U.S. Marines in a remote area of Helmand Province:

And they study every step they take for signs of tampered ground.

This has the Adj tampered ‘tampered-with’; tampered ground conveys ‘ground that has been tampered with’. The verb tamper is intransitive, taking an oblique object with the P with rather than a direct object, but here there is no with. Is this a case of (transitivizing) P-drop? (Summary discussion of transitivizing P-drop here; the topic has come up on this blog at least nine times.) Well, maybe.

OED2 under tamper has a number of subentries, all except one intransitive. The now-dominant intransitive use is

To meddle or interfere with (a thing) so as to misuse, alter, corrupt, or pervert it.

There is one transitive subentry, marked “rare”, with only one cite (from 1817), and it has the particle off (rather than the preposition with). This can be safely disregarded.

However, OED2 does have a subentry for the Adj tampered (derived from the PSP verb form). One of the cites has it in the variant tampered-with:

1895    G. Tyrrell in Month Nov. 361   The tampered-with fragments in the Christian Fathers.

Adjs of the form Vpsp + P (related to a V that takes a complement in P) are generally acceptable but are often awkward. Sometimes, as in this case, the P can be suppressed:

1869    Daily News 30 Aug.,   You have allowed yourself to be tampered with… You appear before us as a tampered witness.

The facts are complex: fiddled books ‘fiddled-with books’ is fine, but meddled evidence ‘meddled-with evidence’ and tinkered car ‘tinkered-with car’ are dubious at best; and so on.

Tampered, however, seems quite comfortable as a prenominal Adj. A sampling of examples:

A threat to throw him in prison won’t rest easily with P Diddy or any of these others in the industry who are facilitating this witness tampering agenda, Rihanna being the tampered witness. (link)

The tampered pages need to be restored to their original appearance, or the site will always appear broken. (link)

The following tips provided by AMVIC may help you spot a tampered odometer. (link)

How do I recognize tampered food? Unfortunately, you may not always recognize tampered food. (link)

The tampered drugs were being sold at Victoria in London and Bromley and Beckenham in South London. (link)

So far, what we have is the suppression of the P with in a very specific context. But it seems that more general transitivizing P-drop (not yet recognized by the OED) is now under way for tamper with.

[A note on searching for evidence: tampered occurs fairly often as a spelling error for tempered, as in tampered steel for tempered steel; and, separately, as a word substitution for tamped in tamped down. The first of these errors is interesting from a historical point of view, since modern tamper was earlier temper; OED2’s note:

Before 1600 mostly spelt temper, and apparently originating in temper v., as used in reference to clay. The transitive use to temper clay appears to have become absol. to temper, and then intransitive to temper in clay; hence fig. to temper or tamper in or with any business or matter. Tamper, which appears in reference to clay in 1573, was probably a dialect or workmen’s pronunciation, which became at length established, so as to differentiate this vb. (< temper n.)]

First, passive examples, with plain tampered where I would use tampered with:

Re: How to tell if odometer has been tampered ? (link)

RE: Has This Slab Been Tampered? It might not have been tampered. The plastic they use for the slabs is cheap and they can crack easy. (link)

I think our food was tampered! Horrible place! (link)

Fans haven’t been as kind though. Most have made comments claiming that the photo was tampered to make Spears look much thinner than she really is. (link)

If any of these steps are missed the evidence can be tampered. (link)

And then active examples, especially with the object the evidence, where the new transitive tamper is fairly frequent:

He needed an excuse, for once in his life, to tamper the evidence. There was no way he would let it point towards him, that he was the excuse for Sara’s drinking. (link)

If you want to prove a point, don’t tamper the evidence. It just seems a little fake to me. (link)

There is only so much you can do when the police bungled the investigation and tampered the evidence. (link)

You may remember that during the Cody Posey trial Janice Schryer, desperate to keep the evidence of Delbert Posey’s love of incest porn from the jury, actually suggested that her own expert, Jack Henderson, may have tampered the evidence he sent to the defense. (link)

Many people hinder with the investigation process by tampering the evidence that the thieves and burglars leave behind. (link) [note the intransitivizing P-addition in hinder with the investigation process]

But also occasionally with other objects:

Each of these symptoms does not necesseraly means that someone has tampered the odometer… (link)

That depends on whose side I’m in, the one who tampered the food, or the one who’s going to eat the tampered food. (link)

All right. So, I tampered the photo to make it look like Hayley was making love with Tyson. Happy now? (link)

The medicine was first recalled in 1986 when an individual tampered the drugs and laced them with cyanide. (link)

In many of these examples, transitive tamper conveys something close to plain ‘alter (maliciously)’, rather than the more indirect ‘interfere with so as to alter’, so that this would be another case of direct objects understood as more closely tied to their verb than oblique objects (conveying that referent of the object is more directly affected by the action denoted by the verb), as I’ve noted in other cases of transitivizing P-drop.



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