Thursday, January 02, 2003

Adverb to the Wise

I asked my brother Neal (the linguist) if he knew of any nouns that have been turned into adverbs aside from shotgun and bitch, as discussed in a previous post. After pondering for a while, he observed that many nouns have become adjective-modifying adverbs in phrases like "/ice/ cold," "/bone/ dry," and "/rock/ hard." But he couldn't think of any others nouns that are verb-modifying adverbs as in the phrases "ride /shotgun/" and "ride /bitch/."

Then I posed the question to my sister Ellen, who came up with commando, as in the phrase "go /commando/" (i.e., wear pants without underwear). This definitely seemed to fall in the same class, with shotgun and bitch, of verb-modifying adverbs. But that got Neal thinking, and he said there's a good argument that *none* of these are really adverbs, because their seemingly adverbial uses are too situation-specific. There's nothing you can do bitch or shotgun except ride (or sometimes sit); there's nothing you can do commando except go; etc. Arguably, then, we don't really have verbs with adverbs here - we just have verbs that happen to have spaces in them, in a manner similar to the verb "put up with."

That sounds right to me. But then again, there seem to be other adverbs that are at least awkward when paired with anything other than a specific verb. There are few things one would do fitfully except sleep, for example. So how many different verbs must a new prospective adverb be used with before it becomes a real adverb?

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