to shallow

From the 9/6 New Scientist, in a letter from Bruce Denness (p. 28):

The tank shallowed towards one corner so that deep-water waves … began to break as they approached the shallow corner.

That’s the inchoative verb to shallow ‘to become, get shallow(er)’ — a direct verbing (or zero conversion) of the adjective shallow. I’m not agin verbings (unlike a number of peevers, who are driven into rages by them), and this one serves a real purpose, but it was new to me. It’s also venerable, and has even made it into NOAD2.

From NOAD2:

shallow verb [no obj.] (of the sea, a lake, or a river) become less deep over time or in a particular place: the boat ground to a halt where the water shallowed.

In OED2 we see that inchoative to shallow, and in fact its causative counterpart (meaning ‘to make shallow(er)’), have been around for some considerable time:

trans. To make shallow. [first cite 1510; a representative later cite:]

1876   J. Orton Andes & Amazon (ed. 3) ii. xli. 563   The great equatorial lake, already shallowed by sediment, was drained.

intr. To become shallow, to diminish in depth. [first cite 1773; a representative later cite:]

1883   G. M. Fenn Middy & Ensign xli. 247   The water, the river shallowed, came only to his waist.

The function of such verbings is much like the function of certain derivative affixes, in this case the inchoative / causative suffix -en of to deepen (the opposite of to shallow): to provide compact, single-word equivalents for periphrastic constructions with adjectival complements to verbs.

As it happens, there is no verb to shallowen in English, and this is not an accident. As I wrote on the innovation louden in this posting of 5/28/13:

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

Lacking shallowen — shallow is a disyllable, not a monosyllable (and doesn’t end in an obstruent anyway) — we can resort to a different derivational strategy: straightforward verbing. So it’s no surprise that shallow got verbed centuries ago.

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