or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Omens 2

On the bus today I passed a bus stop with a sign that read

Bus will not stop to pick-up or drop-off passengers at this location

and my second reaction was to think, "Well, why is there even a bus stop there, since all a bus does is to pick up and drop off passengers?" I'm sure there's some sort of logical reason: maybe it's going to be a proper stop in the very near future, but isn't yet. Perfectly plausible, really.

However, my first reaction was to scream (inside my head, of course), "Pick-up and drop-off are nouns, you stupid fucks!"

And they are. Nouns, I mean. I've been over this before and I concede that handling hyphens in English can be tricky, but this particular instance, as it turns out, isn't. Here's the rule: a verb phrase consisting of a verb followed by a preposition--"pick up", say, or "run over", or "jerk off"--is still a verb. But as soon as you jam those two words together into one word, hyphenated or not--"knock off" turning into "knockoff", "run in" becoming "run-in"--then, if they become anything, they become a noun.

It's not that fucking hard.


Another sign I passed was for some kind of charity fund-raising reading or other, featuring a number of (Canadian) celebrities including Peter Mansbridge: Canadians all know who he is. What gave me pause was a sentence beginning "An evening of fabulous entertainment".

When, I wonder, did "fabulous" come to mean merely "enjoyable"?

It used, of course, to mean "mythical", since it's the adjectival form of the noun "fable". In time it became part of gay slang; it's not a particularly large leap from "mythical" to some approximation of "so extraordinary as to befit something from a fairy tale". The Oxford English Dictionary's first citation of anything resembling this meaning is from 1959. After a while, it fell into general use, as these things often do ("suck" in the sense of "be unpleasant"--"Well, that sucks!"--is another word that seeped into the language at large from gay argot).

And now it seems that "fabulous" has been downgraded to "very nice". (I'm not saying this usage of the word is in any way wrong; something similar happened to "awesome", and I think that usage is sweet.) I would rather that "fabulous" kept some of its intensity, and I'm not even sure why; perhaps it's that if this keeps up, we're going to run out of ways to express extreme wonderfulness. At least we've still got "spectacular".


Blogger Tony Pius said...

Another recent discussion of the perils of the hyphen over at Roger Ebert's place.

Friday, September 09, 2005 11:59:00 AM  
Blogger pyramus said...

Oh, those pesky hyphens. They really are trouble.

I had never even seen the incorrect version of the movie poster, because I don't go to movies that often; I did see the correct version (before the movie was ever released), though. It's inexplicable that they would release a poster correctly hyphenated and then change it so that it was wrong. How could that have happened? And why?

Speaking of movies, we went to see "Transporter 2" last weekend and it's wonderful, as long as you don't make the mistake of actually thinking about any single aspect of it; it's easily the single most illogical movie ever made. Nothing about it makes any sense whatever. But it looks good.

Friday, September 09, 2005 11:07:00 PM  

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