One Legged Man

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One Legged Man

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Redigeret: aug 14, 2012, 4:56pm

Can anyone help me to understand the apparently false verb form by which English constructs formulae like the "onelegged man", the "wellspoken neighbour", the "longwinded sentence" etc etc. These forms seem to be created by adding a participle ending to something which is not really functioning as a verb. For example, there is a verb "to corner" but a three-cornered hat is not using "corner" as a true verb: it is a kind of possessive pretending to be a past participle. Is there any rhyme or reason to this? And why, then, do we get not a onehorsed town but a one horse town? Also, if you can just stick a d on the end of a noun-phrase like "one leg", how do we know that "licensed premises" is right in the English spoken in England, but "licenced premises" would be right only in American English?

aug 14, 2012, 5:19pm

It's an adjective - a descriptive term - not a verb or verb phrase. I can't think of the technical terms (though I'm sure others here can - this is exactly the right group to ask this question). BTW, I usually see such phrases hyphenated rather than compound - one-legged, well-spoken (American, with some experience with British English).

Not sure about the question in your last sentence. In American English, only the s form is used - it's both license and licensed. In British English, the noun is licence but the verb is licensed. So "licenced premises" is never right.

aug 14, 2012, 5:36pm

You have the one-legged man at the ass-kicking contest, and the wooden-legged man at the sawmill convention. Both are unfortunate, but completely American.

aug 14, 2012, 7:33pm

I think the answer might have to do with how nouns become adjectives, particularly phrases where an adjective already modifies the noun, so that the entire phrase becomes the adjective.

For one-legged items, well-spoken people, or three-cornered hats, you'll see that each phrase is a Thing that is described by Another Thing. It is a Thing that has that Other Thing as a property of its Thingness. "This item has one leg"; "These people have good speech"; "this hat has three corners" and so on.

I'm not really certain where along the way it changed "This item has one leg" -> "This item is one-legged" -> "This is a one-legged item", but I think that might be the path? Or, of course, the word order could have changed first "This item has one leg" -> "This is a one-leg item" -> "This is a one-legged item"...

I'm sure there is a more complicated/precise explanation that includes the "well-spoken" adjective (I'm not entirely certain that comes from the noun, even though it could fit - unless it has to do with how speech/speak split into noun and verb, or something). But giving it some thought, this is how it appears to me.

I'd love to see actual study on it, now that it's brought to my attention, but my googling is to no avail so far.

Redigeret: aug 15, 2012, 4:59am

Thank you for these helpful responses.

Following up keristars' observations, there are, of course, several suffixes which can turn a noun into an adjective. Use-ful, coward-ly, hope-less etc. The odd thing about the -ed suffix is the whiff of syntactical corruption that it carries. It's as though speakers noticed that the participle was employed to generate adjectives from verb forms (a celebrated actress, a whispered conversation, a deluded prime minister) and illegitimately copied it, with no real grammatical logic, to get a one-legged man, a wooded hillside, a fainthearted financial authority, a ragged tale. Or is there some other, more satisfying explanation of how these apparently false participles were created?

As for licensed/licenced, we English users of English know that public houses are licensed premises because someone has licensed them. But if it's legitimate to create false noun-participles, why shouldn't licenced premises be as acceptable as bearded ladies?

Redigeret: aug 15, 2012, 6:47am

About hyphenated modifiers (hyphenated adjectives and adverbs): one often finds them used unnecessarily, in situations where -- if the writer had a better vocabulary -- he/she wouldn't have to use the hyphenated modifier at all. The "three-cornered" hat is a case in point: the "tricorn" (or "tricornered") hat is what's meant and that's what should be used.

The English Language got along fine without hyphenated modifiers from the dawn of time right up through the 19th century. It wasn't until Henry Luce founded Time magazine (1923 or thereabouts) that the hyphenated modifier came into widespread use. Luce and his editors popularized the form, believing (as they did) that hyphenated modifiers somehow add "punch" to pooped-out prose. I'd suggest that hiring better writers might have been a more effective solution.

I don't have an AP Stylebook ready to hand, so I don't know how wire-service editors deal with the issue. That said, iron-pants copy editors Brian S. Brooks and James L. Pinson wrote a book titled Working With Words: A Concise Handbook for Media Writers and Editors. In the second edition of that work, Chapter 3 is titled Modifiers: Adjectives, Adverbs, Participles and Interjections and it features a lengthy, detailed (I almost said "in-depth") explanation on the use of hyphenated modifiers.

I don't know who Pinson is (was?) but Brooks is a noted authority on the subject of written grammar. He spent some 20 years as a copy editor in the news business before signing on to teach copy edit at the University of Missouri's Graduate School of Journalism. He was still on faculty when I went through there in the 1990s and I can tell you: Brooks is most definitely an expert. Get the book. Read it and refer to it until you know it by heart. Your troubles with the English Language will soon be over.

aug 15, 2012, 8:34am

Okay, that was kind of an odd diatribe there against hyphenated modifiers. The hyphen is used to help visually group which modifiers apply to which words, rather like the serial comma helps readers with lists. The classic example from XKCD:

Perhaps a different vocabulary might help with some words, but words do fall in and out of fashion and no one should be treated as inferior because their vocabulary doesn't include more words or the same words.

aug 15, 2012, 8:56am

Some of the nouns mentioned by TimofeyPavlovichPnin (specifically leg and rag) are commonly verbs nowadays (in British English, at least), as in 'to leg it' (run away) and 'to rag' (tease), but of course the meanings are very different in 'one-legged man' and 'ragged tale'.

I thought perhaps familiarity with a particularly usage of 'leg' and 'rag' might encourage transference to a different meaning of the word, but I could be mistaken in that: 'ragged' meaning uneven was apparently first noted in the 14th century, but 'rag' meaning to tease is only noted in the 18th century.

On the other hand, while 'legging it' seems a late 20th-century usage, 'to leg' meaning to run is already common in the 17th century, and 'one-legged' is as late as the mid 19th century.

aug 15, 2012, 8:58am

^7, OK, that made my day!

Redigeret: aug 15, 2012, 12:27pm

This method might be described as using participles to indicate possession of an unusual characteristic: one leg instead of the usual two, three corners instead of an even number (or none), speaking well rather than merely speaking.

In one case it has led to confusion about how a word should be pronounced. The adjective long-lived means "having a long life," but the f in long-lifed was smoothed down to a v in speech. So the word should be pronounced (IPA:) lɔŋ laɪvd, rhyming with hived, but is almost always (IPA:) lɔŋ lɪvd, presumably because most of us encounter it in print with no better guidance as to how it should sound.

aug 15, 2012, 12:02pm

So where does 'long-life milk' fit in ... ?

Redigeret: aug 15, 2012, 12:24pm

Another way to get at TimofeyPavlovichPnin's query is to compare English to one or more of its Germanic sister languages. Here are some comparisons from German.

There seems to be a much more restricted use of participles as adjectives, and much more prefixing when they are used. English wooded, for instance, translates bewaldet, literally "bewooded," in German. My sense is that the history of English has included the sloughing off of many prefixes that were once considered essential. German has retained more of these.

Where the adjective indicates an unusual characteristic (one-legged, one-eyed, long-lived), German is likely to use the suffix -ig, related to English -y/-ey. To literally carry over the German einbeinig, einäugig and langlebig would give us one-leggy*, one-eyey* and long-lifey*, or perhaps long-livey*. (The asterisks indicate that these are unattested words.) Possibly the English suffix -y just doesn’t have enough aural presence — I think the technical term is oomph — to carry off these hyphenated, polysyllabic jobs. So the participial forms were pressed into service, even though they don't exactly make sense.

It's a theory.

In other cases the English participial adjective is most often translated by a German phrase with the preposition mit ("with") or the verb haben ("have"). A well-spoken person is one who has good German (or English, or whatever language the subject is using). A three-cornered hat is either a Dreispitz ("tricorn," literally "three-peak") or a "hat with three corners" (Hut mit drei Ecken). A licensed pub or bar is a Lokal mit Schankerlaubnis, where the last word is a noun meaning "alcohol sales permission." Participials just don't seem to enter the picture as often as in English.

D-A-CH-Eingeborenen, habe ich recht, oder?

aug 15, 2012, 1:16pm

None of the answers given strike me as particularly authoritative. The OP might be better off asking this question at Ask A Linguist.

Redigeret: aug 15, 2012, 2:36pm

# 7 -- I wasn't aware that I was treating anybody as inferior. I was telling some of the little that I know. Before accusing me of "treating someone as inferior," you might take note of the fact that I use hyphenated modifiers frequently myself. IF you don't believe that, read any of my reviews. I promise you won't need to endure more than two or three of them before the hyphenated monster rears its ugly head. You may even find the thing misused: I don't always catch every mistake I make. That's what copy editors are for, and we don't have any of those working at LT.

What you said about the use of hyphenated modifiers is true as far as it goes. It's also false in that it is far from being the whole story. The whole story is two or three pages longer than the version of truth that you posted, which is why I gave the name of my authoritative source instead of typing the whole of it out here. I'm lazy, don't you see? That's why I'm a writer. And while I don't know what you are, I can say confidently that if your hobby truly IS moving all those hyphens one word to the right, then you really need to get a life.

Redigeret: aug 16, 2012, 7:20am

I am indebted to Professor Bosch of Calvin College who has referred me to the OED entry for -ED suffix 2. This notes that Coleridge and Johnson both criticised what they took to be the practice of "giving to adjectives derived from substantives, the termination of participles". So I have the consolation of knowing that I belong among the better sort of grammarians.

But according to the OED, Coleridge, Johnson and I are all wrong. Those with the leisure to do so can look up the full entry online. The gist of it is that the addition of the -ed suffix to nouns has a sufficiently long history to shrug off my unworthy imputations. The suffix, which is Old English -ede = Old Saxon -ôdi (not represented elsewhere in Germanic, though Old Norse had adjs. similarly from ns., with ppl. form and i- umlaut, as eygðr eyed, hynrdr horned):—Germanic type -ôđjo-, is appended to nouns in order to form adjectives connoting the possession or the presence of the attribute or thing expressed by the noun. The function of the suffix is thus identical with that of the Latin participial suffix -tus as used in caudātus tailed, aurītus eared, etc. Examples that have come down from Old English are ringed (Old English hringede) and hooked (Old English hócede).

The English language is therefore absolved of the whiff of corruption of which I falsely suspected it.

aug 16, 2012, 10:01am

>15 TimofeyPavlovichPnin:
Ah, a tea-cupped storm.

Redigeret: aug 16, 2012, 11:49am

> 15 -- Maybe you'd care to repeat that in English for those of us who don't speak whatever language you're writing in. That is: I assume it's a foreign language because none of it contradicts anything I said about hyphenated modifiers.

Thank you for your support.

aug 16, 2012, 12:27pm

so is it a glass-bottom boat or a glass-bottomed boat?

aug 16, 2012, 1:01pm

Yes. It is a glassed-bottomed boat.

aug 16, 2012, 1:21pm

Does anyone have a theory on why sometimes there's an -ed but sometimes there's not? (For example, one-legged man but one-man band, two-fisted drinker but two-lane road, three-cornered hat but three-ring circus, four-masted brig but four-leaf clover.) The meaning seems to be pretty much the same either way: a hat with three corners, a circus with three rings. There isn't necessarily a logical rule, but the fact that there's usually only one correct form (never *one-leg man or *one-manned band) suggests some interesting distinction might be at work.

aug 17, 2012, 4:35pm

As a possible starting point for sussing out an underlying cognitive distinction, it seems that body parts almost invariably take the -ed, regardless of whether it's literal or whether what's being described is an organism: slack-jawed yokel, dog-eared pages, one-armed bandit, three-legged stool, heavy-handed policy.

Redigeret: aug 18, 2012, 4:28am

A two lane highway is a type of road. A twelve string guitar is a type of musical instrument. A snottynosed child is merely a child with an unsavoury appearance. One armed bandits are metaphors.