to long grass

Caught by Chris Hansen (posting on Facebook) in the Guardian, here:

[Boris] Johnson [Mayor of London], who had been a siren voice within the Conservative party over airport capacity until the Heathrow reversal campaign gathered momentum, urged Cameron to come up with a definitive answer to the capacity issue. “It is plain that the argument over aviation capacity is not going to vanish and he can’t long grass this. It is necessary to come up with an answer.”

That’s a verbing of the phrase long grass — a phrase extracted from the (metaphorical) idiom to kick into the long grass.

This would be a good time to post the famous Calvin and Hobbes cartoon on verbing (which has often been quoted on Language Log and this blog):

Having digressed this far, I’ll add an ecard that takes off from this Calvin and Hobbes strip:

The text is a take-off on “First they came…”:

“First they came…” is a famous statement attributed to pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) about the inactivity of German intellectuals following the Nazi rise to power and the purging of their chosen targets, group after group. There is some disagreement over the exact wording of the quotation and when it was created; the content of the quotation may have been presented differently by Niemöller on different occasions.

According to the Martin-Niemöller-Foundation the text is as follows:

First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me. (link)

(in the U.S., the quote begins with the socialists, leaving out the Communists).

Back to the long grass. From Elizabeth Knowles’s Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (2006):

kick into the long grass conceal a problem or difficulty in the hope that it will not be considered or discussed. The notion is of putting a ball out of play.

(as in golf). The idiom seems to be specifically British. A few examples:

She added: ‘This issue is  too important to duck, and too urgent to kick into the  long grass.’ (link)

I suspect a kick-into-the-long-grass deal has been made. (link)

As yet there is no news from Fifa about what action it has taken and there are fears that this could be football’s equivalent of a kick into the long grass, because the governing body is insufficiently equipped to investigate. (link)

Then derived from that, the verb long-grass. From the Scientific Radicals site, the word of the day for 6/8/11, long-grassed:

If an issue or problem is long-grassed it is pushed aside and hidden in the hope that it will be forgotten or ignored. To be “kicked into the long grass”.

Usage: The Capital Acquisition Request for the new NMR facility was long-grassed once again given the uncertainties surrounding the future organizational structure.

Verbings of multi-word expressions are reasonably common — quite common in the case of proper names, as in Paul Simon’s “A Simple Desultory Philippic (or How I Was Robert McNamara’d into Submission)”, which has plenty of passive eponymous verbs, referring to political, military, and artistic figures (there are two recorded versions, from 1965 and 1966, with somewhat different names in them).

Compound nouns are not infrequently verbed; my files include Wikileak, bone transplant, toothpick, showroom, catwalk, bullhorn, air guitar, crank-call, hero-worship, target-practice, cloak-room, jailbreak, sandbag, teabag, and mommy-track.

Finally, Adj + N composites are sometimes verbed. From my files: double whammy, open source, social network, and instant hold. And now long grass.

As a bonus, here’s an inventory of postings on this blog — just this blog, not Language Log as well — on (zero) verbing, derivation of verbs from other parts of speech without a suffix (-ize, -ify-ate, -en).

5/11/10: sandwich (link): sandwich

7/17/10: The Zits bath (link): spit-bath ‘give a spit-bath’

7/22/10: Zippy goes zip-lining (link): zip-line (verbing or back-formation?)

8/1/10: Data points: verbing 8/1/10 (link): mandamus

8/18/10: Data points: verbing 8/18/10 (link): quote ‘originate (a notable quote/quotation)’

9/12/10: Data points: verbing, back-formation 9/12/10 (link): catwalk ‘perform on or as on a catwalk at a fashion show; put someone or something on a catwalk, display someone or something on a catwalk’

10/21/10: Astonishing verbings (link): euthanasia, intercourse

12/24/10: Advances in verbing (link): mice

2/23/11: I was doored (link): door

2/25/11: scootering (link): scooter

3/9/11: Scornful X-isms, X-manteaus, and X derivatives (link): sheen (from Charlie Sheen)

4/3/11: Verbing, mistake, or what? (link): barber (on about); possibly a mistake

4/27/11: timesuck, the verb (link): timesuck (not yet attested); mention of mommy-track, timestamp

5/5/11: Comic reporting (link): peacock

6/28/11: batting (link): bat ‘hunt for bats’

7/3/11: Verbing: dildo (link): dildo, fist

8/26/11: bottoming (link): bottom (in several senses)

8/27/11: Uncle Tomming (link): Uncle Tom

10/19/11: Annals of verbing (link): escoveitch

3/24/12: to oxter (link): oxter

4/13/12: rebuttal, the verb (link): rebuttal

4/15/12: The news for pet rodents (link): guinea-pig

4/17/12: excessed (link): excess

4/20/12: Odds and ends 3 (link): paragon

5/8/12: umbrella-reflect (link): umbrella-reflect

5/9/12: times, the verb (link): times

5/30/12: Lexical gap hilled! (link): rainbow

7/6/12: Annals of commercial verbing: showroom (link): showroom

8/2/12: The great wave of verbing rolls on (link): Haefeli cartoon, social-network






6 Responses to “to long grass”

  1. Calvin on how to write « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] Arnold Zwicky's Blog A blog mostly about language « to long grass […]

  2. Harry Campbell Says:

    “in the U.S., the quote begins with the socialists, leaving out the Communists”

    Pretty ironic in a country where they actually did come for the Communists.

  3. The Ridger Says:

    I find it odd to think of “kicking it into the long grass” coming from golf, since you would actually be making your next shot much harder, unless you were kicking your opponent’s ball, of course.

    But it wouldn’t be the first sports metaphor to have a radically different meaning – in baseball, a pinch-hitter is brought in because he’s expected to do *better* than the regular player, but in RL, you excuse poor performance by saying “I’m just a pinch-hitter”.

  4. phill armanas Says:

    Pinchhit is a weird noun, but one presumes it is performed by a pinchhitter. A thought, if a hitter is a noun to reflect the verb ‘to hit’, is ‘to ham’ the verb that fits the noun hammer?

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      The relationships between nouns and verbs are complex, historically and synchronically, and go in both directions. The verb pinchhit is a back-formation from the noun pinchhitter; the noun hitter is derived from the verb hit; the verb hammer is (zero-)derived from the noun hammer; and the noun ham and verb hammer have nothing whatsoever to do with one another. It’s not chaos; there are systematic patterns, but there are a number of them.

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