Brief mention: nouning of adjectives

A “Lives” column by Robin Marantz Henig (“I’m With Stupid: The pleasures of learning tap-dance (badly) in middle age”) in the New York Times Magazine of September 16th indulges in several nounings of adjectives.

First, there’s the title, which has stupid (or Stupid) used as a quasi-proper name. I’m With Stupid is now a catchphrase.

Then in paragraph 2:

We performed toward the end because we were the oldest — a half-dozen middle-aged women and men who danced at the level of 5-year-olds, but without the adorable.

with the adorable ‘adorable stuff/things’, which could be a nouning by truncation (though the truncated head isn’t uniquely identifiable) or a direct mass-nouning.

And then, later, a different nouning of stupid:

Tap-dancing gave me permission to stop striving and just be stupid. I found it strangely liberating.

The stupid started every time our teacher, Miss Yvonne, introduced the flaps, slaps and heel drops of a new routine. It persisted at the next class, and the class after that, as I’d watch Miss Yvonne go through it all again and feel as if I’d never seen those steps.

The title has Stupid ‘the stupid one’, referring to a person. Now we have the mass-nouning the stupid ‘the stupid stuff, the stupidity’, referring to an event.

Compare this usage to the ones Ben Zimmer posted about in 2009, in “Doing stupid”, especially the mass-nouning in phrases like box of stupid and full of stupid (in a comment by Ben), where the reference is to the abstract property of stupidity.

Nounings of adjectives are semantically versatile; that (along with brevity) is one of their attractions.


One Response to “Brief mention: nouning of adjectives”

  1. Brief mention: Hairspray mass nouning | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] On nounings of stupid in several senses, with links to other discussions, see this posting. […]

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