Annals of back-formation

Two recent contributions, of different sorts, from friends: to truck-chase and to harsh-parent.

truck-chase. Victor Steinbok reported this find in ADS-L on the 3rd:

Spotted on Beer Advocate Forums. As in, “I’m not going to truck chase those whales any more!” (Whale = rare important special release, BA jargon after legal and gambling use of “whales” = wealthy/high-impact clients)

Truck-chaser is like an ambulance-chaser only for beer — people who camp out near a liquor store on release dates, waiting for the truck to pull up with the latest deliveries.

So we start with the synthetic compounds truck-chaser and truck-chasing, used in a very specific context (among beer fanciers). From these we get the back-formed verb truck-chase, as an alternative to the V + Obj phrase chase trucks. Truck-chase isn’t significantly shorter than chase trucks, but it has an advantage over the phrase: the contextual associations of the synthetic compounds carry over to the back-formed verb.

Something similar goes on with back-formed ambulance-chase: the associations of ambulance-chaser and ambulance-chasing — that the chasing goes on for the purpose of gaining clientele — carry over to ambulance-chase and give it more specificity than chase ambulances.

harsh-parent. From Jan Freeman in e-mail on the 5th:

Heard this story¬†on NPR news tonight. It’s not in the (non)-transcript, but at 1:49 a researcher says moms with one genetic variant are “more likely to harsh-parent.”

This one goes back to the nominal harsh parenting, with harsh as a modifier of the noun parenting, a nominal use of the PRP form of the verb parent. Stripping off the -ing of parenting gives us to harsh-parent, as an alternative to the V + Adv phrase parent harshly. This one is more subtle than truck-chase, but if you see harsh parenting as not merely parenting harshly, but as a cluster of specific parental behaviors, then harsh-parent would evoke the whole suite of behaviors in a way that parent harshly wouldn’t necessarily do. So again the back-formation would have the virtue of specificity.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: