Where to door knock and cold call

… and, eventually, how to abracadabra things out of sight. Yes, it’s Verbing Day on AZ Blog!

Politics and real estate: to door knock. It started on the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC on 10/11, with the cite presented here in its larger context:

(#1) to door knock / door-knock ‘knock on doors’ (in political canvassing): a N + V verb, whose origin lies in a back-formation from the synthetic compound door knocking / door-knocking

The semantics / pragmatics of the synthetic compound is specialized — not merely knocking on doors, but doing so in specific sociocultural settings (political canvassing and door-to-door solicitations by real estate agents, in particular) — and this specialization is shared by the 2pbfV (two-part back-formed V)

That’s in the political context. Two cites in the real estate context:

How to Successfully Door Knock for Real Estate In 2021 (link) [with no object, as in the Maddow cite]

If you don’t have a lot of time, it’s better to door knock on homes that you know are open to you. (link) [with oblique object, marked by the P on]

Now for something rather different: to cold call. One more real-estate cite, with parallel two-part verbs to door knock (as above) and to cold call (not as above; instead, it originates as a direct conversion from the nominal cold call, with a figurative sense of the Adj cold):

How do You Pick Neighborhoods to Door Knock and Cold Call? (link) [without object, but both two-part verbs are understood as having (in) neighborhoods as a locative adjunct]

(#2) The cite on the hoof: a screen shot from real estate agent Brian Casella’s YouTube video on soliciting clients

From NOAD:

noun cold call: an unsolicited visit or phone call made by someone trying to sell goods or services: the salesmen spend most of their time making cold calls on perfect strangers.

verb cold-call: [with object] make an unsolicited call on (someone), by phone or in person, in an attempt to sell goods or services: (as noun cold-calling): severe new regulations against cold-calling. [AZ: a direct conversion of the noun]

adj. cold: … 4 without preparation or rehearsal; unawares: going into the test cold.

So: the two-part X + V verbs door knock (N + V) and cold call (Adj + V) are both verbings, but with two different origins. I doubt that ordinary speakers of English appreciate this difference in the two expressions’ histories (nor should they be expected to), though speakers not familiar with the usage in a sales context might find the expressions remarkable because of their novelty.

(I suspect that both expressions are primarily North American, but I have no actual evidence in the matter.)

Also on the adjective cold ‘without preparation or rehearsal’: my 11/30/09 posting “On the noun watch” has a section on cold open / cold opening / to open cold ‘(in a television program or movie) the technique of jumping directly into a story at the beginning or opening of the show, before the title sequence or opening credits are shown’.

And then we abracadabra things out of mind. Continuing on the verbing train, we come to Susan Fischer on Facebook on 10/16:

— SF: A new-to-me verb from today’s NYT:

For people in power, the reification sleight of hand conveniently abracadabras questions like “who caused this thing?” and “who benefits?” out of sight

This is a direct conversion of the exclamation abracadabra to a verb, in fact a transitive verb with a predicative complement as well as a direct object: abracadabra NP out of sight / to invisibility / invisible]

The cite in its larger context, from the NYT Opinion column, “Mental Health Is Political” by Danielle Carr (assistant professor in the Institute for Society and Genetics at UCLA), on-line on 9/20/22 (in print on 10/16/22):


Now, some FB responses to Susan Fischer’s posting.

— Will Leben: Is verbing getting out of hand? My jaw dropped at this recent Twitter post. [with:]

F*ck the violence. Let’s get straight to the voting. We have 25 days to save democracy people. Have you early voted?

— SF > WL: it’s analogous to “he gay-married.”

— AZ > WL [and SF]: These are 2-part back-formed verbs (2pbfVs); see the set of my postings here: – the excellent verbing of “abracadabra” is a direct conversion of a lexical item to a verb. So: both of them verbings, but with two different sorts of origin. [as with door knock vs. cold call above]

The larger context. From the handout for “Brevity plus”, my talk at Stanford SemFest 11, March 12, 2010:

— 1. the innovation and spread of lexical items very often is favored by considerations of brevity: items are invented by some people and adopted by others because they are more compact than earlier expressions

— 2. digression: other reasons for the innovation and spread of these items, not having to do with formal considerations:

— 2.1. they often have the virtue of novelty, suggesting fashion, ostentatious cleverness, or playfulness;

— 2.2. they usually have the virtue of contextual or social specificity, via ties to specific contexts, like sports, journalism, business, radio/television, the tech world, gaming, etc., or to specific social groups, like young people, Australians, women, etc.

— 3. these innovations also frequently (perhaps almost always) have the virtue of semantic/pragmatic specificity; they allow for shadings of meaning that are fuzzed over in the older expressions (which, typically, have radiated and generalized in their meanings over the years)

— 4. here I look mostly at category conversions (that is, conversions from one category to another) in English, in particular zero conversions and subtractive conversions (back-formations) – as opposed to ordinary derivational morphology, with affixes, which you can think of as additive conversion – when such conversions are, or are perceived to be, innovations, and I’ll focus on four types:

— 4.1. plain nounings (a disconnect vs. a disconnection)

— 4.2. plain verbings (to extinct vs. to make extinct, to drive to extinction);

— 4.3. simple back-formations of verbs (to incent vs. to provide an incentive to);

— 4.4. two-part back-formations of verbs (to cheerlead vs. to serve as a cheerleader)

(There’s a huge literature on all parts of this program, of course, but here let me recommend especially

Eve V. Clark & Herbert H. Clark, “When nouns surface as verbs”,  Lg 55.4.767-811 (1979)

on denominal verbs, with a large corpus of examples from real life.)

One Response to “Where to door knock and cold call”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    It’s interesting (well, to me, anyway) that immediately following the instance of “door knock” in your first example is the phrase “do some get out the vote work”, which turns a whole verb phrase into an adjective. (If I had been writing that, I probably would have added hyphens to improve readability.)

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