His tooth was pulling out
June 3, 2012 11:32 PM   Subscribe

...it's true that the progressive passive first appeared in the English language in the second half of the 18th century, replacing what historians of English grammar call the passival.
via Slate
posted by ancillary (18 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Lexicon Valley is one has been (has being?) my new favourite podcast.
posted by thecjm at 11:58 PM on June 3, 2012


Haven't got all the way through yet, but how about things like "The tension is building," or "A new day is dawning"?
posted by clorox at 3:11 AM on June 4, 2012


Haven't got all the way through yet, but how about things like "The tension is building," or "A new day is dawning"?

I'm not an expert, but your second example doesn't seem to be a passive. New days generally aren't being dawned, they tend do the dawning themselves.

Tension is building is slightly more difficult though. I don't think anyone would interpret this sentence as a passive one, but I'm having a hard time coming up with why. Anyone?
posted by Sourisnoire at 3:24 AM on June 4, 2012


There are quite a few passival constructions remaining in modern English -- two of them are in the comments. "Your order ships today". "That book sells well". Another one from my locality is when farmer talk about apples, they say 'The Macintosh variety eats well".

Other uses that don't sound so strange: "The receipts file under R'. Compare 'The toasters stock in aisle 27', which doesn't sound anything like as familiar.
posted by unSane at 4:01 AM on June 4, 2012


None of those examples use "to be." But the first might work:

Current: Your order is being shipped today
Passival: Your order is shipping today

It seems very sensitive, though. Changing both slightly in the same way makes them mean slightly different things (to me, at least):

Your order is being shipped out today vs. Your order is shipping out today

Sourisnoire: I think you're right about "A new day is dawning." "The tension is being built" sounds strange, but it doesn't sound entirely incorrect like "A new day is being dawned."
posted by clorox at 4:30 AM on June 4, 2012


There is also the middle construction. Also here.

I'm not sure how it relates to the passival.
posted by shoyu at 4:36 AM on June 4, 2012


They can all be used with 'to be'.

-- The Macs are eating well right now
-- That book is selling well

There are other constructions that sound half-right to modern ears.

"Mr Da Vinci is going to paint your picture. While your portrait is painting, I'll read to you".
"Mr Brunel is going to build a bridge. While the bridge is building, we'll take the ferry."

It's only a hop and a skip from standard uses such as

"The dinner is cooking"
"The door is closing"

to

"The bags are carrying down"

to the passival. It sounds oddest to our ears when there's a human agent who is being elided. We can imagine the door closing on its own but the bags carrying themselves seems odd.

One reason it sounds odd in English is because we've lost the reflexive s- pronouns (as in "Il s'appelle"). So "The bags are carrying down" now has a whiff of "The bags are carrying (themselves) down".
posted by unSane at 4:44 AM on June 4, 2012


Ah, this is useful. Whenever I tackle the classics I will struggle with sentences like this, and now I have a name for it.
posted by zardoz at 4:45 AM on June 4, 2012


Pity the passival went. I like it, it's expressive and succinct.
posted by Summer at 5:01 AM on June 4, 2012


This grammatical construction makes perfect sense once you realize how much more capable inanimate objects used to be:

His tooth was pulling out (of the parking space).

Our garden is putting in order (my bookshelf).

The trunks were carrying down (the cook's drunk assistant).

Now that inanimate objects are indeed inanimate, thanks to lower sunspot activity and the industrial revolution, we no longer require this grammatical construction and it has withered away like a vestigial organ.

Next week's topic: The reintroduction of the formal thee and thou in our new age of oligarchy.
posted by Forktine at 5:50 AM on June 4, 2012 [8 favorites]


Interesting. There is a Starcraft commentator named Artosis who uses the passival all the time, and it bugs me, but I didn't know what it was called or even whether it was wrong.

Typical example: "The army is moving across the map, but ultralisks are making. Will they be there in time?" (Instead of "Ultralisks are being being made"). It's such a weird and antiquated phrasing, I wonder where he picked it up.
posted by empath at 7:33 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's such a weird and antiquated phrasing, I wonder where he picked it up.

I believe, though I'm not sure, that it's a construction that has survived in some Irish dialects. Can anyone confirm (or disconfirm) that? Does this Artosis have a discernible accent of any kind?
posted by yoink at 9:25 AM on June 4, 2012


Next week's topic: The reintroduction of the formal thee and thou in our new age of oligarchy.
posted by Forktine at 5:50 AM on June 4 [6 favorites +] [!]


Try using them to address your oligarchical betters and you might find yourself short one tongue.

Thee and thou were the opposite of formal. They indicate super familiarity. You would use them amongst family members, close friends, when talking to God, or to be deliberately disrespectful (Shakespeare had lots of fun with that).

Prior to that, the various conjugations of "thou" were a singular form and those of "ye/you" were the plural form. Later, the split developed where the "thou" words became the superfamiliar, and the "ye/you" word became a formal combined singular/plural.

So, really, we should just recognize the linguistic merits of "y'all/youse/y'uns/yinz" and be done with it.
posted by snottydick at 10:11 AM on June 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


Don't forget "all y'all"
posted by empath at 11:24 AM on June 4, 2012 [3 favorites]


You would use them amongst family members, close friends, when talking to God, or to be deliberately disrespectful (Shakespeare had lots of fun with that).

I remember my English teacher talking about teaching in the north of England (where thee and thou are/were? still current) and how kids would use thee/thou to convey disrespect. So this is not some centuries-past convention.
posted by Summer at 3:41 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


People assume that 'thee' and 'thou' is heightened/respectful because they usually encounter it in the language of the King James Bible and in particular the Lord's Prayer -- "Thine be the kingdom" and so on. Not realizing that in fact to the readers of the time it would have implied the exact opposite -- as was intended -- that God was as familiar as a friend or a member of your immediately family and should be addressed as such.
posted by unSane at 7:55 PM on June 4, 2012


Right, unSane; thou is to you as tu is to vous--the plural form is the form of respect.
posted by yoink at 8:06 PM on June 4, 2012


Thou as in tu, you as in usted, no?

(I think MetaFilter is the only place populated by stricter pedants than myself. You are my people!)
posted by Forktine at 8:43 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


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