doing X

Found by Victor Steinbok on Google+:

Heart-warming though the sentiments are, my interest here is in the syntax: the all-purpose verb do and its wide range of complements. The ten complements illustrated here — seven NPs, two AdjPs, and a quotation — are none of them established idioms with do, though they can all be seen as instances of a recent pattern.

Then some words about the versatility of do and about do drag.

The OED2 draft additions of Dec. 2005 have two recent patterns with do:

To (be able to) partake of or engage in. Usu. in negative constructions.

1990   H. G. Bissinger Friday Night Lights vii. 141   Don had to explain to her gently but firmly that he didn’t ‘do’ relationships.

1994   Lang. in Society 23 247   The sequential trajectory of the caller’s first greeting thus provides a structural environment within which the interactants can ‘do intimacy.’

1999   R. T. Davies Queer as Folk: Scripts Episode 2. 57   He’s never had a boyfriend, he doesn’t do boyfriends.

2000   N.Y. Times 10 Apr. c2/2   She is not a people person… She just doesn’t do small talk. If you hang out with her, it feels awkward.

With adjective as complement: to (be able to) exhibit the behaviour described. Freq. in negative constructions.

1991   Re: Cosmic Cowboy’s Chocolate in (Usenet Newsgroup) 1 May,   I don’t do polite.

1997   Independent 8 Aug. i. 3/1   He does avuncular almost to the point of absurdity. It’s all that hugging sort of thing.

1999   J. Lloyd & E. Rees Come Together iv. 98   So Jack’s being cool. That’s OK, I can do cool too. I think.

2000   Times (Electronic ed.) 4 Oct.,   There was none of the petting and air-kissing which now characterise party conferences. The Thatchers do not do touchy-feely.

2004   Mojo June 110/1   Her voice is very effective..but, unlike sister Shelby Lynne, she doesn’t do perky.

Though the OED‘s examples are mostly in negative constructions, the examples in the photo above are all positive — indeed, warmly affirmative. As is do stupid ‘act stupidly’ in this posting by Ben Zimmer.

Note that some of the noun examples have do or do X in quotation marks, indicating that the usage might or might not be quoted from someone, but is innovative or otherwise remarkable in the view of the writer. You can see the range of possibilities in citations of do sorry ‘apologize’:

(1) a clear quotation, as in do I’m sorry in the photo above (though without the qtuotation marks)

(2) do “sorry”, with the complement marked as a quotation and/or notable use:

[quote from Mr. Woodcock (2007)]
Mr. Woodcock: I don’t do ‘Sorry’.
John Farley: What?
Mr. Woodcock: Sorry is for criminals and screw-ups… and I’m neither one. (link)

Note that the nouning of sorry continues in Woodcock’s reply to Farley.

(3) “do sorry”, with V and complement marked as a unit:

After reading Michael Skapinker’s column “Our sorry need for others to apologise” (October 21), I must sadly conclude that your readers and columnists across the pond in the UK don’t seem to realise that certain American Masters of the Universe – be they George W. Bush or Richard Fuld – don’t “do sorry”, so to speak. (link)

(4) unmarked do sorry, apparently completely naturalized:

[Kyle] Sandilands: I don’t do sorry, aIthough I went too far. But worrying about sponsors isn’t my job (link)

(Compare the the OED‘s do + Adj examples, all of which are unmarked.)

The nouning-of-Adj examples are clearly innovative, since do doesn’t normally occur with Adj complements. But the N examples also involve fresh combinations of do with a complement, not established idioms; listing these would be a endless exercise for lexicographers, since virtually any N can be pressed into service in this pattern.

Nevertheless, the line between these open combinations and idioms (or idiom families) is none too clear, as you can see by looking at some do + NP combinations that are found in dictionaries:

do work (do good work / the Lord’s work / etc.), do justice (to), do one’s duty, do someone’s bidding, do one’s best, do someone’s hair, do penance, do the accounts, do homework, do the dishes, do flowers, do pastry, do verse / a photograph / a translation / etc., do 75 (mph), do a show / the Trevi Fountain, do time, do drugs, do repairs, do sushi / alcohol / etc., do lunch / breakfast / etc., do windows, do a wheelie, do someone ‘have sex with’, do a X ‘behave like X’

The OED does its best to find sense groupings that will reduce the number of subentries for transitive do, but it’s a fearsome task. The all-purpose verb do does duty for an enormous number of other verbs: perform, provide, experiencemake, prepare, eat, serve, wash, …

Now, inspired by my recent posting on drag portmanteaus, I turn to do drag — a combination that’s not in the OED, but is in Wikipedia entry on drag:

Drag is used for any clothing carrying symbolic significance but usually referring to the clothing associated with one gender role when worn by a person of another gender. The origins of the word are debated, but ‘Drag’ has appeared in print as early as 1870. One suggested etymological root is 19th century theatre slang, from the sensation of long skirts trailing on the floor.

“Drag queen” appeared in print in 1941. The verb is to “do drag.” A folk etymology whose acronym basis reveals the late 20th-century bias, would make “drag” an abbreviation of “dressed as girl” in description of male transvestism. The opposite, “drab” for “dressed as boy,” is unrecorded. Drag is practiced by people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. (link)

Some cites:

Mixing pop and politics, the gender-blending performers of Dykes Do Drag have been entertaining and broadening horizons for audiences at the Bryant Lake Bowl for eleven years. Claude Peck of the Star Tribune likens the show to “a Savers fashion show in Genderbenderville.” Join the fun by coming in your own idea of drag! (link)

R2D2 Skirt Makes Me Wanna Do Drag (link)

Top 10 Actors Who Shouldn’t Do Drag

There are few things more disturbing than an ugly cross-dresser. We don’t have anything against the practice per se; just have a little pride in your craft. Case in point, Adam Sandler’s cringe-worthy turn as his own twin sister in his latest slapstick Jack and Jill, which just happens to open this Friday. Of course, Sandler isn’t the first thespian to play dressup; here are 10 actors who shouldn’t do drag. (link)

Do drag serves in place of a simple verbing of the noun drag. Wiktionary has ‘to perform as a drag queen or drag king’ as a sense of the verb drag, but I haven’t yet found any real-life examples; it’s not easy to search for.

Bonus 1: drag racing. OED2 (draft additions 1993) does have an entry for the verb drag having to do with car racing:

 intr. To take part in a drag race. N. Amer. slang.

1950   M. Bradley Let. in Hot Rod Mag. Jan. 28/3   There ought to be a place to drag in every city… There would be no excuse to drag on the streets.

1976   National Observer (U.S.) 17 Apr. 16/2   Joggers are considered antisocial beings by certain groups… I have been pelted with a passing car and challenged to drag by cars with engines in full rev.

The noun (marked as originally US) is roughly contemporaneous, with first cites:

1954   Amer. Speech 29 95   Drag, a race between two cars to determine which can accelerate faster. The race is over a given distance, with few exceptions a quarter of a mile.

1954   Amer. Speech 29 95   There are different types of drag racing: (1) drags from a dead stop; (2) drags from a rolling start.

1954   Amer. Speech 29 95   Drag strip, a straight course used in drag racing, usually an abandoned air strip.

1962   Amer. Speech 37 273   An establishment where youthful drivers congregate to plan illegal activities such as highway drag-races.

Then quotes from 1964 on.

Bonus 2: drag compounds. Note the drag X compounds for automotive drag: drag race, drag racing, drag strip. Cross-dressing drag participates a number of compounds of this form as well:

drag queen, which OED2 has from 1941 (George Legman) on; on the X queen snowclonelet, see here;

drag king; OED2 draft additions of Dec. 2006 has:

[after drag queen n. at Compounds 2] slang (orig. in gay and lesbian usage) a woman who dresses up as a man; a male impersonator. [cites from 1972 – Bruce Rodgers – on]

drag show, drag ball: neither has an entry in OED2, but they occur in quotations in other entries:

[under crêperie] 2001   J. Weiner Good in Bed i. iii. 36,   I lived in the neighborhood that boasted the first crêperie, the first soba noodle shop, and the first drag show dinner theater.

[under straight] 1968   Globe & Mail Mag. (Toronto) 13 Jan. 6/1   Some straight (heterosexual) people also go there to watch the drag show (a floor show put on by men dressed and acting like women).

[under queer] 1965   New Statesman 9 July 58/1   Its climactic evocation of high Hapsburg queerdom at its annual drag ball.

Compounds in the other order — X drag — are treated in my earlier “Drag” posting, here.


3 Responses to “doing X”

  1. Mar Rojo Says:

    Reminds me of “think fog/danger/love” etc.

  2. swizzard Says:

    Does this ‘do’ count as a light verb? And/or an overt spell-out of little v? (Sorry, we just learned about little v in my syntax class and it’s pretty great.)

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Certainly a light verb — but not entirely without semantic content, since it contributes activity semantics. For some analysts, that would also make it a spell-out of little v.

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