From absentee-vote to zero-tolerate

That’s the first half of the main title of a piece in The Week (3/22/13) by Neal Whitman (who gets mentioned on this blog with some regularity). The rest of the title: “26 backformed compound verbs”. The subtitle: “An alphabetical tour of modern verbs that entered the language backwards”. Neal writes:

To get an idea of how productive this compounding-reanalysis-backformation process is, here’s a list of 26 such verbs, one for each letter in the alphabet. Some are older; some are newer; some are here to stay; others probably aren’t. However, in these actual examples from the past two years, they’ve all been used to talk about current topics in business, politics, entertainment, or culture in general.

As I’ve said many times on this blog, I don’t aim to collect all the two-part back-formed verbs in English — that would be a foolish and never-ending task — but I do keep an inventory of examples that come past me (especially when people complain about them), and Neal’s alphabet of examples has 16 that weren’t already on my list.

Neal managed the letter X with executive-produce, which was already on my list. And he added a bonus example, below, that wasn’t. The 16 items:

 …just imagine what’s going to happen when the market takes away our ability to deficit-spend.

 One junior uniformed officer and one administration clerk were elder-abusing me.

Ever Facebook-stalk an ex to see whom he or she has been messaging with?

Bonus! The backformed retronym straight marry [corresponding to gay-marry].

In Germany, it is a criminal offense to use freedom of speech to Holocaust-deny.

 As bad as I would feel for someone who illegal-immigrated 25 years ago and has kids born and raised here…

 The 250,000 jobs man would have his opportunity to job-create.

Meanwhile, Paul Tracy romped to the victory that kick-started his championship season.

 We have to level-set expectations up front.

 And they didn’t just commit the act once; they money-laundered repeatedly over the course of several years.

 …it’s because VZW doesn’t network-optimize 4G devices at this time…

 Rather than trying to union-bust from within, would it not be more practical to remove the elements that make employees vote them in to begin with?

 …the Democratic Convention celebrated the killing of Osama bin Laden and victory-danced to cries of “al Qaeda is no more.”

 Your brother stole money from the company, and regardless of whether he whistle-blew on himself and offered to pay it back, its still stealing.

 btw, I youtube-searched “fat italian woman” and this was one of the results.

 Oh, you hate zero-tolerance except when they zero tolerate stuff you hate.

A few of these are old enough to have made it into the OED. For example:

kick-start v. (trans. and intr.) to start (an engine) thus [i.e., by a downward thrust on a pedal].

[first cite] 1928   Manch. Guardian Weekly 15 June 474/2   The biggest boy is to kick-start an engine. [then two cites from 1959 and one from 1962]

(What the OED doesn’t have is figurative examples of kick-start, like the one Neal gives above.)

For an instance of back-formed straight-marry, here’s one in a story of gay interest (from 8/20/12):

A Diss Before Dying: Father’s Will Requires Gay Son To Straight-Marry

When New York businessman Frank Mandelbaum died in 2007, he left a will that stipulated his grandson could never receive his share of a $180,000 trust unless his  son, Robert Mandelbaum …, married the child’s mother. The catch? The son is gay and is (now) married to a man, and the mother of the child was just a surrogate. So the anti-gay father was simply making one last, big, parental “comment” with his will, and his widow has testified in favor of the homophobic arrangement.

Needless to say, the surviving Mr. Mandelbaum is fighting the will. (link)


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