louden

From the Falcon Studios description of the gay porn flick The Guys Next Door:

The grunts and groans [of sex] louden, calling Marcus [Mojo] and Johnny [Torque] back to the scene [an orgy in progress].

That’s inchoative louden ‘become loud, become louder’. It struck me as unidiomatic; despite the parallel with soften, I would have written got loud(er). But it turns out that virtually every dictionary I looked at has it. The OED has the intransitive — inchoative — use from the mid-19th century on, but only one cite (from 1898) for the transitive — causative — use, which it marks as rare.

The inchoative or causative suffix –en is in fact extremely restricted in English — not productive, and limited to only a few sorts of base words: monosyllables ending in obstruents, from the Anglo-Saxon (rather than Latinate) stratum of the vocabulary. Even then, not all eligible bases allow derivatives in this –en; hotten is not attested (heat (up) serves this purpose), and colden is attested but marked by the OED as rare (cool and chill serve this purpose, or better, get cold(er)), and modern speakers reject it. For me, louden is like colden.

Michael Quinion on this affix:

Forming verbs from nouns and adjectives.

Such verbs have the sense of creating, developing, or intensifying the state signalled in the noun or adjective from which they derive. Examples from adjectives include brighten, cheapen, fasten, loosen, moisten, redden, sweeten, and widen. [Others: darken, deepen, harden, madden, shorten, soften, tighten.] Examples from nouns include: frighten, heighten, lengthen, strengthen, and threaten. The ending is not active in the language.

(Heighten fills the slot of the unattested highen, lengthen of the unattested longen, and strengthen of the unattested strongen; the unattested derivatives have bases ending in sonorants.)

Consider color words as bases. Only blacken, pinken, redden, and whiten are attested. Bluen and greenen are not, though the bases for both are Anglo-Saxon monosyllables; they end in sonorants. Silveren and yellowen are even worse; both have Anglo-Saxon bases, but these bases are disyllabic and also end in sonorants. Beigen and taupen are not attested; they have monosyllabic bases ending in an obstruent, but those bases are not Anglo-Saxon (and it might be relevant that the bases are relatively infrequent and are not basic color words).

So the inchoatives and causatives in -en make a small closed class that shows no signs of extension. Presumably, having not come across louden for some period of years, I concluded that (like colden and bluen) it was not in this class.

[Addendum later in the day. I should have mentioned the playful formation embiggen that we owe to The Simpsons, and now Robert Coren and Tim Evanson have brought it up on Google+. Two points. One, embiggen has both the suffix -en and a prefix en– (in the assimilated variant em-), on the model of enlighten. And two, embiggen started its life as an ostentatiously playful word. Then, as it happens, the word got adopted by some writers on the net (some Language Log posters and me, in particular) as a more entertaining variant of enlarge (which has the prefix but not the suffix).

But there’s a bit more here. Biggen has some history, detailed in OED3 (Sept. 2008), which says it’s”now rare”, and takes  the word back to the 17th century (first cite for the transitive in 1643, for the intransitive in 1652). For the transitive, the OED has a 1955 cite from American Speech that is jocular in tone: ” ‘Look’, said the small fry. ‘You can biggen it up and smallen it down’ “. Transitive biggen and smallen now seem to have some currency with reference to font size. So there’s some flexibility in the application of -en.]

[Addendum 6/3/13: This might not be clear from the one sentence above from the description of The Guys Next Door, but the entire text is in the narrative present tense, so that the present louden (rather than the past loudened) is the appropriate form. The whole, fairly long, text has now been posted on AZBlogX, so you can read it there to see how it works. Warning: the text is full of blunt descriptions of gay sex, and there are X-rated photos as well.]

3 Responses to “louden”

  1. m.m. Says:

    interesting

    conversely, i wouldve written “loudened”

    oh grammar

  2. flask Says:

    many of us already know “louden”. the composer percy grainger was a racist to the extent that he refused to use italianate music markings, so if you’re workin from an authentic grainger edition, it will say “louden” instead of “crescendo”,

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