Wednesday, April 16, 2014

language rant: compounds and hyphenates vs. phrasal verbs

I just saw this sentence (found here) and became annoyed:

They called on parents to crackdown on tablet computer use and even turn off wi-fi at night to address the problem.

The article was written by—according to the byline—an editor. Now, you'd think an editor would know better, but apparently that's a naive thought. My problem? The word crackdown. As it's written in the sentence above, it's incorrect, because crackdown, written as a single compound, is a noun. That's the nominal form of the word.

The verbal form is crack down—a phrasal verb. TWO WORDS. One of the major reasons why English is classified as a Germanic language is that it contains so many phrasal verbs, a trait that it shares with German. In that latter language one might see, for example, the verb steigen (rise, climb, mount, get in/on [a vehicle]) paired up with various prepositions: einsteigen (get in), aussteigen (get out), umsteigen (transfer [from one vehicle to another]). The preposition is separated from the verb when written in conjugated form:

Wir steigen ein! (We're getting on!)

English has plenty of phrasal verbs. To put is a great one:

put in
put on
put up
put out*
put through
put (X) with (Y)
put (one) over
put into
put under
put between
put beside/next to


Very often, the nominal and adjectival forms of these phrasal verbs will be compounds and/or hyphenates (which many consider a form of compound).

to break down: a breakdown (more archaically, a break-down)
to line up: a lineup, a line-up
to fuck up: a fuckup, a fuck-up
to do over: a do-over (I've never seen anyone write a doover)
to smash up: a smashup, a smash-up
to break in: a break-in (no one writes breakin)
to break out: a breakout/break-out role (adj.)
to bang up: a bang-up job (adj.)

So I have to ask: how did this editor not realize he was using the wrong part of speech?


They called on parents to crack down on tablet computer use and even turn off wi-fi at night to address the problem.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who edits the editors?

*As the man bellowed in the corner while clutching his face, Katniss explained, "I put out his eye when he became put out that I didn't put out."


No comments: