Backup life

If you’re a normal person and you run out of something in your household — toilet paper, granola, cleaning products, cheese, plastic trash bags, whatever — you just go out to a relevant store and pick it up. If you’re (essentially) housebound, as I am, in this situation, you have to plan ahead and get backup supplies delivered, so that replacements are to hand when you need them. (Even normal people might providently plan for the future and also save time and money on buying in bulk by laying in backup supplies.)

In any case, I’m obliged to live the backup life and have stocks of stuff hanging around — many of them piled up on what was once a sofabed in the study of my condo (which otherwise has very little usable storage space). At the moment, it has boxes or piles of Kleenex, toilet paper, paper towels, and wet wipes. There are similar stashes elsewhere in the condo. I spend a good bit of time ordering in this stuff, mostly through Amazon.

Now, of course, comes the linguistics (I don’t at the moment see any gender & sexuality angle here, but otherwise this is the sort of thing you can expect from me).

From NOAD on the noun(s) backup [AZ: also back-up:

1 [a] help or support: no police backup could be expected. [b] a person or thing that can be called on if necessary; a reserve: I’ve got a security force as backup | [as modifier]:  a backup generatorthe filter is an excellent backup to other systems. 2 Computing [a] an extra copy of data from a computer: make a backup of any important files| [as modifier]:  a backup copy. [b] the procedure for making extra copies of data in case the original is lost or damaged: automatic online backup | [as modifier]:  a backup system. 3 North American an overflow caused by a stoppage, as in water or automobile traffic: there are long backups on all routes.

1b is the one relevant to my domestic arrangements.

But this is just the beginning. All these nouns are in fact nounings of a verb back plus the directional particle up. From NOAD on the verb(s)  back:

1 [with object] [a] give financial, material, or moral support to: he had a newspaper empire backing him. [b] supplement in order to reinforce or strengthen: the government troops were backed by paramilitary forces. [c] be in favor of: over 97 percent backed the changes. [d] (in popular music) provide musical accompaniment to (a singer or musician): brisk guitar work backed by drums, bass, fiddle, and accordion. [e] bet money on (a person or animal) winning a race or contest: he backed the horse at 33–1. 2 [a]  [no object, with adverbial of direction] walk or drive backward: I put the car in reverse and backed down the road. [b] [with object] cause to move backward: he backed the Mercedes into the yard. [c] (of the wind) change direction counterclockwise around the points of the compass: the wind had backed to the northwest. The opposite of veer. [d] [with object] Sailing put (a sail) aback in order to slow the vessel down. 3 [with object] cover the back of (an object) in order to support, protect, or decorate it: a mirror backed with tortoiseshell. 4 [with object] [a] lie behind or at the back of: the promenade is backed by lots of cafes. [b] put a song or piece of music on the less important side of (a recording): the new single is backed with a track from the LP.

My domestic noun backup is a nouning of the 1b verb + up, the result being a transitive verb in which the verb + particle combination occurs both solid and separated:

[solid] I regularly back up the toilet paper

[separated] I regularly back the toilet paper up

One vivid way of thinking about these two variants is that the first has back up preceding its direct object (in the customary syntax of verbs with their direct objects), while the second has it “wrapped around” its direct object.

One Response to “Backup life”

  1. Julian Lander Says:

    I would interpret the statement “I regularly back the toilet paper up” as indicating that you routinely block the plumbing with toilet paper, interpreting it as definition 3 of “backup” rather than 1b. But this may be a result of my own long and complicated history with plumbing.

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