dispose ‘dispose of’

Ben Zimmer passes on a tweet with this image:

with the of shaded, presumably as a “correction”: Please only dispose of toilet paper in toilet. The tweeter’s message, “Is this a peeve I don’t know?” (Certainly, I don’t.)

Ben wondered if this was a case of Omit Needless Words. Applied to the V + P combination dispose of, to yield, by “transitivizing P-drop”, transitive dispose. Background here:

Verbs abound in English that can occur, with very similar meanings, either with direct objects (the Ø option) or with oblique objects (the P option), and new ones are being added all the time, either by “transitivizing P-drop” (British “They agreed a draft constitution” ‘They agreed on/to a draft constitution’) or by “intransitivizing P-addition” (love on ‘cuddle, caress, show affection for’). Some of these pairs have been around for a considerable time (beware (of), flee (from)), and many of the transitives have been the object of proscriptivist scorn (transitive abscond ‘take, steal’ and transitive depart).

(More extensive discussion here.)

Transitive dispose (in the sense ‘dispose of’; there are other transitive uses) is attested in OED2 (in a “not yet fully updated” entry, the original being from 1892), but with only one cite, and it’s marked as obsolete:

†c. gen. To dispose of, deal with in any way.

1590   Marlowe Tamburlaine: 2nd Pt. sig. I5,   Then bring those Turkish harlots to my tent, And I’le dispose them as it likes me best.

These days, you can google up a fair number of examples (many, but far from all, from non-native speakers). Here are three more toilet-paper examples:

[Yahoo! India] What is the right way to use and dispose Toilet paper? (link)

[American poster] And while you will get used to it, the plumbing in most places is insufficient to dispose toilet paper. (A small receptacle next to each toilet is for that purpose.) (link)

[from Lebanon] Dispose toilet paper in designated bins. Do not bury them for animals will dig them up. (link)

plus a garbage example:

[American poster] How to Dispose Garbage (link)

As I’ve said before in connection with P~Ø alternations, the intransitive, or oblique-object, version is more explicit about the relationship between the V and the object, while the transitive, or direct-object, version is briefer and suggests a stronger real-world bond between the referent of the V and the referent of the object. Different virtues.

Of course, people are inclined to be disparaging about an innovation, whether it’s the transitive or the intransitive variant.


4 Responses to “dispose ‘dispose of’”

  1. Neal Goldfarb Says:

    A somewhat similar phenomenon: “reference” as a transitive verb, as in, “He referenced my article in his new book.” Maybe it’s the bastard offspring of the union of “He referred to my article” (lexically related, different syntax) and “he mentioned my article” (separate word, same syntax). Note also that this involves the verbing of a noun despite the fact that there’s no apparent “need” to do so given the alternatives just mentioned.

  2. the ridger Says:

    I would imagine that is a shortening of “made a reference to” rather than some blend of ” refer + mention”. I also think “referenced my article” means something different from “mentioned” or “referred to” – it means to do those things in a particular way, to use them as a reference in.

    Huh. MW defines the verb as: 1 : to supply with references
    2 : to put in a form (as a table, list) adapted to easy reference

  3. arnold zwicky Says:

    On reference as a verbing, see this posting.

  4. ship my pants | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] on this blog on dispose toilet paper vs. dispose of toilet […]

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