Truncation notes

Two recent examples of truncated expressions: from a Law and Order episode on tv, a character saying “I work the graveyard at” some place or another; and a reference in the Economist to David Cameron and Margaret Thatcher seeming to be barking.

Background. My first discussions of truncated phrases concerned “nouning by truncation”, in which a modifying adjective (like social in social networking) ends up standing for an entire Adj + N composite — serving as a noun with the syntax and semantics of the composite (as in barriers to social); informally, the head N of the composite is “truncated” (though it’s not necessary to think of the N as being deleted by some sort of real-time process).

But other nominal composites, in particular N + N compounds, can be treated the same way, with the first (modifying) N standing for the entire compound. That’s what’s going on in working (the) graveyard ‘working (the) graveyard shift’.

Finally, adjectival composites, like barking mad, with an intensifying modifier (barking) to an Adj, can alternate with a variant in which the intensifier stands for the whole composite (so that the intensifier serves as an Adj: I’m afraid she’s barking ‘barking mad’).

In both of today’s cases, we have to look first at the syntax and semantics of the untruncated composite.

graveyard. The background here is the phrase graveyard shift, with its figurative use of graveyard to refer to the “dead” time of the day, that is, the night. Quotations from OED2, two with explanations:

1907   Collier’s 26 Jan. 14/1   From the saloons came the clink of the chips. For it was the ‘grave~yard gamblers’ shift… The small hours of the morning… are theirs.

1908   Sat. Evening Post 7 Nov. 27/2   A month later he and his fellows went on ‘graveyard’ shift. ‘Graveyard’ is the interval between twelve, midnight, and eight in the morning.

1965   ‘E. McBain’ Doll (1966) ii. 22   The afternoon shift is from four p.m. to midnight. And the graveyard shift is midnight to eight a.m.

Then the truncated version:

I worked the graveyard in AZ many years ago, I loved it. I am not a morning person and I would work graveyard now if I could. (link)

[Dave Carter & Tracy Grammer: Grand Prairie TX Homesick Blues] these nights i work the graveyard at the burger king downtown (link)

Our Tim Hortons can’t find people to work the graveyard at $12 so they closed down a shift. (link)

barking. From OED2 Draft Additions January 2010:

[1] barking mad adj. colloq. (chiefly Brit.) wild and unpredictable; completely demented, utterly irrational.

1927   Ada (Oklahoma) Evening News 27 Nov. 6/2   At 2:30 this afternoon..a half dozen barking mad auto polo cars will be whirled into action.

1933   C. P. Pakenham Mr. Jiggins of Jigginstown xvii. 275   ‘But he was mad!’ said Mrs Jiggins..‘Barking mad!’ ‘That is a question which might have to be considered,’ said Mr. Duckworth.

1972   P. O’Brian Post Captain vii. 194   A thief from the Winchester assizes had gone raving, staring, barking mad off Ushant.

2006   R. Dawkins God Delusion 253,   I have described atonement, the central doctrine of Christianity, as vicious, sado-masochistic and repellent. We should also dismiss it as barking mad.

[2] colloq. (chiefly Brit.). Short for barking mad adj.

1960   N. Mitford Don’t Tell Alfred xiv. 156   If Dr. Jore comes here every day like he says he’s going to he will drive me mad. Really, properly barking.

1968   ‘J. Welcome’ Hell is where you find It iv. 67   She had someting, that girl. She’s mad, that’s the worst of it. Bonkers, barking, round the bend.

1978   D. Hare Plenty vii. 53   Some of the senior men, their wives are absolutely barking.

1989   Sunday Tel. 4 June (Colour Suppl.) 7/4   Waitresses from the next-door café stand gaping with that half-sympathetic, half-mocking look reserved for the completely barking.

2002   Maxim June 52/3   As a descendent of the most barking bunch of Royals in European history, it was only a matter of time before she succumbed to the same insanity that befell her ancestors.

Then from the Economist, in the Bagehot column on March 28th (crucial material boldfaced):

They haven’t gone away: Rows over Europe could wreck a second Conservative-led government

Do Prime Ministers go mad in office, as David Cameron suggested in his kitchen on March 23rd, with a nod to Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher? Or do their supporters, increasingly irked by the contradictions that government demands, stop giving them the benefit of the doubt? A bit of both, is the answer. The titanic self-assurance that made Thatcher and Mr Blair seem barking was apparent even in their majority-winning pomp.

The intensifier barking in barking mad is a verb form, a PRP, serving as intensifier, a type of adverb. Other PRP forms can work similarly: most especially raving in the formula stark raving mad, but there are also occurrences of raving mad (without stark) and screaming mad. As far as I know, these don’t allow truncation.

4 Responses to “Truncation notes”

  1. chrishansenhome Says:

    The word “barking” as short for “barking mad” has been thus used for decades. In fact, there is a Cockney phrase: “You’re very East Ham” that refers to a person as being not quite barking mad. It refers to the Tube map, where “East Ham is one stop short of Barking”. See the Urban Dictionary.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Look at the OED‘s entry [2] (in my posting), which has barking for barking mad starting in 1960, which is 5.5 decades ago.

      • chrishansenhome Says:

        I wasn’t disputing anything you wrote or correcting anything. I was pointing out an interesting usage around “barking” that didn’t actually use the word “barking”. I hope it didn’t come across as a didactic comment. Perhaps I’m a bit East Ham today, preparing for Easter.

  2. arnold zwicky Says:

    To Chris H.: I thought you’d missed the information I posted on the age of the usage — but I thank you for the rhyming slang material, which is great.

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