Breaksdown.

Andrew Dunbar wrote me:

I wonder if you have seen this in the wild yet. We all have seen the noun spellings of phrasal verbs like “work out”, “break up”, and “knock out” etc being more and more spelled as single units when there is also a related noun “workout”, “breakup”, and “knock out”, etc.

I often point out that a new class of irregular verbs has emerged, since not many people complain about this like they still do the established proscribed “errors” like split infinitives. The result being that the infinitive and present non-third persons now have a spelling as a single word where all other inflected forms retain their two-word spellings.

And I also joke about how the regular versions if we wanted to avoid introducing many new irregular verbs would be like “I workouted”, “they are breakuping” (or breakupping?), “he knockouts the other guy”, etc. But what I’ve actually seen in the wild, two times now, is internal inflection! The new third person present form of “to break down” is “he breaksdown”: Colion Noir Breaksdown Gun Laws & Gun Crime Statistics.

To be fair, the previous time I saw it was also in the title of another Joe Rogan podcast video. So maybe it’s just a quirk of one person on his team. Maybe they’re intentionally playing with the language? I wonder if you or anyone in Hattery has seen other examples yet?

I hadn’t noticed it, but Andrew’s right, it must be new if people haven’t been peeving about it yet.

Comments

  1. Have never seen the forms like “breaksdown” and have no expectation that I will see it become more common, but isn’t variable attachment/detachment of prepositions for phrasal verbs taking on different forms a pretty common feature in Germanic languages? Is it just that the prepositions are suffixed rather than prefixed here while still being used in verbal form? If so, isn’t it only in cases where the active form is identical to the infinitive which is identical to the nominalized form of the original phrasal verb? Rather than awkwardly inflected forms like “breaksdown,” I imagine you would start to see this being worked out in other special cases where the form is identical to the infinitive/nominal. For example, how do we see “setup” being used in infinitive vs. present vs simple past vs past participle?

    “I will setup the computer in my new office.”
    “I setup my own computer whenever I move to a new office.”
    “I setup the computer in my new office yesterday.”
    “I have setup the computer in my new office.”

    I don’t know if any of these feel more or less awkward than the others to me at a gut level, though none of them seem great.

    The attached forms seem mostly like a writer is using the shortest path towards domain specific senses of the phrasal combo, leveraging reader’s familiarity with the nominal form.

    “I didn’t workout yesterday” seems unpolished to me, but quickly and clearly gestures that this is exercise-related.
    “My plan didn’t work out” is clearly not exercise-related.
    “My plan didn’t workout” is befuddling and seems like an error.

    “Worksout” or “workedout” would make me feel like additional parsing was necessary, not less.

  2. Unfortunately, doch: http://www.notaverb.com/

  3. Ha! The peevers have already struck!

  4. Stu Clayton says

    At first glance I thought “breaksdown” was a fancy plural noun, in imitation of “attorneys general” vs. “attorney generals”.

    The peevers have already struck!

    One down, two to go. I secretly sympathize, although they rarely win. Occasionally I send them cards of condolence: “I hope you feel surrounded by much love.”

  5. Andrew Dunbar says

    I nearly mentioned notaverb.com in my email but I thought everybody here would probably already be acquainted with it. I actually used to send my new finds to its maintainer until he seemed to lose interest and stopped adding new ones.

    Anyway, the site does of course peeve about the conjoined spellings and make fun of what the regular inflections would be if those spellings were legit. But it doesn’t mention the internal inflection. Because I don’t think it was yet happening.

    As for comparisons with internally inflecting noun plurals, the best example would be “passersby” since it is written as a single word without even hyphens.

    I riffled through my old emails and found that I sent him attestations for “breakup”, “roundup”, “takeoff”, and “fallback” in the last couple of years that he didn’t reply to or add. But between 2018 and 2020 he did add “splashdown”, “slowdown”, “comeback”, and “takedown” on my suggestion.

    I even sent him a photo I took from a sign I passed outside a gym that proudly used both “breakup” and “workout” as verbs in the same sentence that I thought would look pretty on his site.

    Oh, I found the previous occurrence which was exactly three months ago. Sadly, or interestingly, it was the same word: “Daryl Davis Breaksdown His Technique for Talking to Klan Members”

  6. Not quite the same thing, but both my children have at various points in their development said things like “I’m becarefulling!”

  7. Gavin Wraith says

    Remember Winston C? The sort of language up with which he would not put.

  8. Stu Clayton says

    As for comparisons with internally inflecting noun plurals, the best example would be “passersby” since it is written as a single word without even hyphens.

    I disagree, since there is no standard “passerbys” alternative – probably precisely because “passerby” nowadays has a life of its own. At any rate it is not a conflation of the corresponding verbal phrase “pass by”. The noun is not found by writing the verb phrase as a single word. [I may have seen “passer-by” or “passers-by” in some 19C novel – the kind I read most]

    This is in contrast with “breakdown” as a noun. It has no internally inflected plural, of course. That was just my little joke using the example of “attorneys general” vs “attorney generals”.

    As for “breaksdown” written together as a verb form: what a fuss about a missing space ! I myself am of course above writing such a thing. I would not withhold any child’s allowance for his having used it, not for more than a week anyway.

  9. Lookingforward to comingacross examples madewith irregular past tenses or past participles. For example “brokeup”.
    Thinkingabout it, shouldn’t that be “peevingabout it”?

  10. Stu Clayton says

    What is that old song with the refrain sung like that: “Thinkingabout you, thinkingabout how …” ? Over the past 50 years there have been so many pop songs written with such words that I can’t find it.

    Maybe it’s some other two-syllable word, not “thinking”: “[da-da]about you …”. I’ve got the melody in my head. In C major: E-F-G C _ C _ / E-F-G C C / E G _ G _. [nonce notation, my Bösendorfer is on the blink]

  11. David Marjanović says

    I haven’t come across this, but I’ve encountered tons of people – or spellcheckers – who seem to believe that if a sequence of letters can ever be written solid (or with hyphens in some cases), it must always be written that way. That’s not just random internet commenters, it’s also journalism below the biggest names. Every day seems moribund, X years old likewise.

  12. David Eddyshaw says

    Surely this is a mere spelling mistake, not an incipient language change?

  13. Stuart Clayton says

    Spelling mistakes are the vanguard of decay.

  14. David Marjanović says

    It’s an orthography change, de facto – and one I want to complain about because it hampers understanding pretty seriously sometimes.

  15. “becarefulling” sounds like a useful word.

    And interesting as a derivation from imperative.

  16. Jen in Edinburgh says

    If you must have it as one word, I feel like it should be ‘downbreaks’. Although I don’t really know why. Am I unconciously modelling on (most likely) Norwegian?

  17. Ha! The peevers have already struck

    But they haven’t! ‘Breakdown’ doesn’t appear on their list. (‘Lockdown’, ‘Meltdown’, ‘Slowdown’, ‘Splashdown’, ‘Takedown’ are “not verbs” — allegedly.) Don’t tell them!

    NZ Sky TV has a sports commentary programme ‘The Breakdown’. ‘Breakdown’ being a technical term for a phase in Rugby.

  18. David Eddyshaw says

    But they haven’t!

    Indeed not.
    The site confuses “misuse as a verb” with “misspell a verb as a noun” (a confusion all too typical of such people.)

    Until such time as I hear the Young People of Today talking about how they are “loginning” or “breakdowning”, or have “loginned” or “breakdowned”, I shall not be clutching my pearls.

    Spelling is (a) hard and (b) not very important at all compared with other forms of linguistic activity anyway. Word division, especially so. Given the actual real problems with the very definition of “word” in linguistics, dogmatism on these issues seems even more wrong-headed than usual.

    [The word-division conventions in the standard Kusaal orthography are consistently wrong. However, the fact that they are consistent is almost certainly more important than the wrongness, in practical terms.]

  19. Isnt’t it to do with pronunciation?

    Eg.

    – breakdown is pronounced as one word with the accent on the first syllable
    – break down is pronounced with an accent on each word

  20. David Eddyshaw says

    Yes: that’s why I call “breakdown”, used for “break down” a spelling mistake. I very much doubt whether those who write (say) We will breakdown this issue to its essentials are actually pronouncing “break down” like the noun “breakdown”, with greater stress on “break” than “down”; though, given the fact that English happily verbs nouns, that may happen one day. When it does, the verb will be not “irregular”, but regular and weak: “he breakdowns”, “he breakdowned.” All this stuff about “irregular verbs” is either facetious or a complete confusion of mistakes in writing with mistakes in speech.

    No native English speaker says “He breaks down this issue to its essentials” with “breaks down” stressed like the noun “breakdown.” Writing “breaksdown” is therefore a spelling mistake. That is all. There is nothing morphologically innovative going on here at all.

  21. David Eddyshaw says

    The failure of English orthography to mark stress is pretty much parallel to the failure of Kusaal orthography to mark tone: it leads to little practical difficulty for native speakers (partly because careful writing works around the deficiency), but nevertheless does lose significant information. It also misleads the linguistically unsophisticated* into supposing that certain forms are homophonous when in fact they are regularly and consistently distinguished in actual speech.

    (There is a further, if accidental parallel: like Kusaal tone, English stress is more important for distinguishing syntactic constructions than lexical items. A lot of Chomskyan examples, it seems to me, would much more obviously fail in their purpose if stress were regularly marked in English. “Focus”, in particular, would be much more of an obvious phenomenon in their beloved written specimens. I suspect the relative neglect of focus in their kind of work is a direct consequence of the lack of stress marking in English orthography.)

    * A category which includes virtually all language-peevers.

  22. I suspect the relative neglect of focus in their kind of work is a direct consequence of …

    their heads being full of words they’ve only ever seen written. In case of A.N.C. himself, I dispute that he can even speak English. (I don’t doubt he can write it.) He seems utterly incapable of mastering prosody in the spoken form; can’t finish a sentence for the life of him; always has to insert a parenthetical qualification; by the time he gets to some sort of cadence just before he runs out of breath, I’ve clear forgotten what he started by saying — and I suspect so has he.

  23. “Writing “breaksdown” is therefore a spelling mistake. That is all. There is nothing morphologically innovative going on here at all.”

    (1) “mistake” is undefined…
    (2) if speakers do not associate bd and b d in stress, it does not imply (logically) that they only associate them visually.

    (just pedantism:-E)

  24. About mistakes, I do use the word, but I imply a convention… particularly the situation when a speaker wanted to achive a specific goal, based her choice on a wrong hypothesis about other people’s usage (a “target” that she was imitating) or used a form thoughtlessly and would correct herself.

    But this approach does not produce any linguistically meaningful concept of a mistake (other than: “when speakers do what they don’t want to do”).

  25. David Eddyshaw says

    “mistake” is undefined…

    “Undefined” is undefined …
    (As is “is.”)

  26. I’m not ready to add “mistake” to the list of basic undefinable notions of linguistics:(

  27. Trond Engen says

    Yeah, well. The mistake may still say something interesting, but maybe not more than that English already fails to discern prosidically marked compounds consistently in writing.

  28. Stuart Clayton says

    @David W: thanks for the link clearing that up ! It was driving me crazy.

  29. “becarefulling” sounds like a useful word.

    And interesting as a derivation from imperative.

    “I am being haive!”

  30. David Marjanović says

    seem to believe that if a sequence of letters can ever be written solid (or with hyphens in some cases), it must always be written that way.

    Another example* – and yes, stress marking would have prevented it: “A draft majority opinion is ultimately what that judge believes is the right thing to say in this case tempered by the judge’s beliefs about what her colleagues would be willing to sign onto given the initial discussion about the case.” Because the word onto exists (rare as it is), it has become unimaginable that sign on might ever be randomly followed by to.

    This is reinforced by the existence of ambiguous cases like log into.

    * I can’t link to it more directly. It’s close to halfway down the page under the heading “Legal matters”.

  31. @David Marjanović: I find “sign onto” better there than ?”sign on to,” which looks subtly wrong to my eye. Of course, in context, both are inferior to plain old “sign.”

  32. Misuse of hyphens is widerspread that misuse of spaces, but people misspell “every day” “everyday” every day.

    I prefer BrE “any more” to AmE “anymore” because the space hints at the stress; cf. “any way” vs “anyway”.

    Was the distinction between “for ever” [for all time] and “forever” [all the time] ever a matter of stress or never more than an artificial Useful Distinction enforced by arbitrary spacing?

  33. January First-of-May says

    This is reinforced by the existence of ambiguous cases like log into.

    “Is it “to login to my PC”, “to log in to my PC”, or “to log into my PC”?  Well, the noun is one word, a “login”; but for the verb, since you can “log yourself in” it must be two words (the same rule applies for “backup”, “breakdown”, “checkout”, “logout”, “lookup”, “setup”, and “shutdown”).  Then the “in to” isn’t the kind that means “into”; it’s just a coincidental sequence of “in” and “to” (compare “giving in to temptation”), so the form I’d recommend is “log in to”.”

    – Justin B. Rye, English for Software Localisation (section B4)

  34. An excellent analysis, and I join him in his recommendation.

  35. It presupposes that “words” are continuous:-E

  36. David Eddyshaw says

    Absobloodylutely.

  37. Is this emphatic infixation of bloody intensifiers related to phrasal verbs, auxilliaries, prepositions that behave strange?

    (Actually “not bloody likely!” is an intermediate stage)

    I do not know how do you pronounce it, but -bsoblood- in the middle reminds me about speaking with ones mouth full…

  38. Stu Clayton says

    As three words: “abso bloody lutely”. It is said more than read.

  39. PlasticPaddy says

    There is a join between the 3 bits, so maybe abso[1 STRESS blood]y[2 STRESS lute]ly

  40. Stu Clayton says

    “Bloody” can’t be inserted between any old syllables, else it sounds dumb. It seems to me that the rhythm of the result with insertion is not supposed to “deviate too far” from that of the original word.

    “Ab bloody solutely” and “absolute bloody ly” are dumb.

    “Pan bloody demic” yes, “pandem bloody ic” no.

    “Ali bloody mony” yes, “alimon bloody y” and “a bloody limony” no.

  41. PlasticPaddy says

    @stu
    Very true. I just think I may hear a stop between y and m in any more but not between o and bloody in abso bloody lutely.

  42. John Cowan says

    In short, just before the stressed syllable. In AmE it is “goddam”, as in “inde-goddam-pendent” and “obli-goddam-nation”. There is a single known instance of “imma-bloody-material” from Australia, which violates the stress rule, but then again “ma” appears on both sides of the expletive.

  43. David Eddyshaw says

    Stu’s “alibloodymony” (which seems cromulent to me, too) suggests that secondary stress will do.

    A further difficulty: I think “unbloodybelievable” is OK, whereas “unbebloodylievable” is questionable.

  44. Ben Tolley says

    “Unbebloodylievable” doesn’t work for me either (maybe the two successive syllables with an initial ‘b’?), but when I try to say “unbloodybelievable”, I find myself dropping the ‘be’, which I think supports the only-before-a-stressed-syllable theory.

  45. PlasticPaddy says

    @bt
    I could imagine un-bloody[DRAMATIC PAUSE]beLIEVable or un-bloody-B’LIEVable with elision of the e after b.

  46. Ben Tolley says

    @PP
    Yes, those work for me too.

  47. John Cowan says

    Or to make un believable and ali mony two prosodic words, which is what I instinctively do, in which case the fuccative infix becomes one too.

  48. Andrew Dunbar says

    I wanted to add that while I haven’t heard anybody pronounce “breakdown” or “breaksdown” as a noun when they intend the verb that I have actually heard this relatively commonly with other phrasal verbs written in their noun spelling. It’s not rare on YouTube because many people read from their own scripts but do not real aloud with a natural intonation. I even think L2 English speakers are picking up this wrong “reading” intonation in their natural English speech. I think I’ve at least once or twice heard younger native English speakers us it in natural speech when not reading. But that’s still rare. I’ll keep my ears open.

    I don’t claim there’s an incipient morphological change but the fact that few peevers complain about this while ancient peeves are still going strong means that they’re pretty much already accepted as alternative spellings, or even preferred spellings.

    It’s happening (orthographically) with other compounds besides phrasal verbs but not as commonly. “Atleast” springs to mind. One that does bother me because it merges two almost opposite meanings is “apart” and “a part”. I’ve seen this by both L2 and native English speakers and think it’s going to get more common. I haven’t seen anyone peeve about it.

    The opposite is also happening where less common compound words are written with spaces where they were traditionally written with no breaks or with hyphens. I don’t see this likely to affect pronunciation so it’s less interesting.

    I perceive it to be related to spellcheckers. If there’s no red squiggly line it must be right. Most (but not all) spellcheckers and most users don’t take context into account. This is why it’s still rare for novel compounds to appear that don’t also have an accepted counterpart written without breaks. So “everyday” passes but “everynight” doesn’t. I think it’s exacerbated by text-to-speech on our phones and computers. My phone always puts “to” instead of “too”.

    While the notaverb website is pure peeve and while I admit being peeved by this one, I’m posting as a language enthusiast and not as a peever.

  49. David Eddyshaw says

    I perceive it to be related to spellcheckers

    Seems very likely. (I’ve seen “prophesy” written for “prophecy” throughout in printed books, even, presumably for the very reason that spellcheckers won’t catch the error.)

    You’d expect even a fairly braindead spellchecker to object to e.g. “breaksdown”, though.

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