Compound Fractures: Forcing Productivity

So I’m looking at verb-noun compounds in English for my dissertation, which are not the most popular patterns around. Endocentric verb-nouns show up every so often in swimsuit, hovercraft, and shakeweight, but there have not been any new exocentric ones since carrycot in 1943. Other exocentric verb-nouns include killjoy, pickpocket, daredevil, and breakfast.

We have so many other patterns that V+N is not really missed, but the old words we have from the pattern are so fun that I’m tempted to try to force a new one into the world, and put it on a t-shirt and wear that t-shirt to nerd events. More about that in Part 2. But first…

I recently watched a talk given by Chris Magyar from ‘Nerd Nite Austin‘ which is a free monthly event for smart happy people to share their knowledge with others in Austin, TX. (It reminds me of the Ignite series I volunteered for in Portland.) Mr. Magyar’s talk was called “Words Making Babies: Why Exocentric Compounds are Sexy.” And you know what? They are sexy. I’m glad there’s someone else out there who has strong opinions about an obsolete compounding pattern in English.

So at the end of the video, he takes questions from the audience, and someone asks if he’d ‘invented’ any new exocentric words. He shares his struggle to come up with a new word for internet, which is a boring word for an awesome entity in the modern age. Since exocentric compounds describe an instrument or agent that does something, he had to divine the purpose of the internet. The audience suggests watchporn, which he agrees is good, but is not suitable to use with your mother.

I thought I’d add my 2 cents to this wild goose chase with my own suggestions, using some preferences I’ve learned about this pattern.

Preference 1. The constituents of exocentric v-n compounds in English tend to be one-syllable words rather than two or more. If  one of them is 2 or more syllables, it’s usually the noun part.
Preference 2. The most common verbs in exocentric v-n compounds are kill, guard, carry, spoil, carry, pinch, turn, cut, lack, stretch and break. Many others are possible, but those are the most common.
Preference 3.  Nouns in compounds are typically singular in English, with the exceptions of sawbones and breakbones.

With those tendencies in mind, here are my neologistic exocentric internet suggestions:

a. killboredom, killtime
b. wastelife, wastetime
c. carryworld, meetworld, shareworld
d. flamestrangers, shipstrangers, trollnoobs
e. makememe, sharememe, sharegif, postblogs
f. stalkfriends (Facebook)

I know, I know, group c is cheesy, but there are some positives to this big invisible web of ours. I like killboredom and wastetime the most, personally. They could be improved, though…

NOTE: If you go to the Vimeo video, you’ll notice I got a little nerd-pedantic in my comment to @ChrisMagyar, but it was in the spirit of sharing knowledge (and the deprivation of having no one else who cares about this). I’ve started a dialogue with him on Twitter and hopefully only good things will come of it.

So I’m looking for an exocentric word to describe myself. When I first started looking at these compounds, I told my brother I want him to design me a shirt that says I’m a noun-verber. Noun+Verb+er is the most common kind of compounding in Modern English. It’s known as synthetic compounding because of that -er which turns the verb into a noun.  That’s lovely, but I want to make a compound for myself using the unproductive exocentric verb-noun pattern.

So far I’ve come up with hugwordloveworddrinkwords and guardwords, but it reminds me a bit too much of nautical directions like windward, leeward and wayward. I know there’s a San Diego radio show that uses that particular pun, but it doesn’t bring me as much joy as I’m looking for from this. Maybe avoid word. Replace it with noun? With language? A tastelanguage. That’s 2 syllables. Same with love-English. How about book, history, or sound? This form is better at insulting people than describing them positively, maybe I should try that tack. I’m a hateprescriptivism. I’m a breathebooks, I’m a lackfriends, I’m a spitfacts. Maybe we’re getting somewhere.

One final note: I have an urge to make the noun plural, even though nouns are typically singular in English. Most verb-noun compounds are plural in Spanish, except when the noun is a non-countable mass noun like water, rice, or sunshine. I wonder if my exposure to Spanish and its compounding rules have made me try to create English compounds that mimic Spanish ones.

I’m a writewords. I’m an eatcandy. I’m a tirebrain.

June 29, 2012

in best post ever,compounds,Words & Origins

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Chris Magyar June 29, 2012 at 6:04 PM

Thanks for the shout-out! And for making commenting drastically simpler than Vimeo.

As for the word you seek, my mental rule is to always stay as rooted in native English words as possible. They just sound more like they belong in an exocentric compound structure than imported words. With that in mind, I propose “lovetongue.” Perhaps too sexy? Nay. Everything relating to linguistics should be as sexy.


Robert August 23, 2012 at 6:21 PM

I think you’re on to something. To engender the public at large to join in creating new compounds could spark an explosive reaction. When I mention your dissertation topic (which is often), everybody gets interested and wants to hear more. They ken the fun and sexy part right away. And, in today’s rapid fire media milieu, condensing a complicated idea down to a compound word seems a godsend.
addendum to dissertation… could this catch on? hm-m-m-m-m

So, to quote myself concerning journalistic composition: Succinctify!!
p.s. official sources say this is not a “real” word. kudos to me


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