Friday, March 09, 2007


When people note (or complain about) words changing parts of speech, they tend to draw examples of nouns becoming verbs (verbizing) and verbs becoming nouns (nounification, double bonus). (The discussion of why some people feel that these role changes are bad is left to another day. Or not.)

The second-tier PoS get a bit less attention, it seems to me. But I noticed a couple of examples of adjectivization recently, one of which has gotten wide attention due to its source, namely the TV show "American Idol." The adjective is pitchy, which apparently the judge Randy Jackson uses to describe contestants' performances. Some Web sites (#) use the word without quotes or definition -- I guess if you're enough into the show to be reading Web sites about it, you should know the vocabulary of the show. However, in what I assume is a rare foray into things linguistic, People magazine got on the job and got a clarification from Jackson himself about what pitchy actually means:
"You're hitting the note that could be flat or sharp," Jackson explained. "So one note could be sharp, the next note is flat. Flat meaning that the note that is hit is lower than the actual note that you (should reach) to be on key."
Some people don't like this word. It's true that its definition is not clear from the word alone, other than you know that it must have something to do with (musical) pitch.

Can you just whack a -y onto the end of a word and conjure up an adjective? Maybe. One of the blogs I read recently posted the following:

[...] someone was stabbed on the orange line a few weeks ago. An isolated incident, I’m sure. Then another stabbing happened earlier this week.

My colleague regularly rides the orange line, so I asked her about it.

Me: Why is the Orange line so stabby?

To my mind, a clever adjectivilization. Now that I'm tuned in, I'll try to find more such examples. If you find any, do let me know.


20 Apr 2007: Dilbert, "Don't get all mathy on me."

1 Nov 2007: Blog post, "[W]hen an expert says "you have to believe me 'cause I'm all experty", maintain a healthy skepticism."

19 Jan 2007 Guitar Player magazine, "It doesn’t get much more guitar-y than this."

7 April 2008 I can't believe I didn't remember this earlier. A joke ... Q: What's brown and sticky? A: A stick.


Lori Witzel said...

This post was just so insighty!


Seriously, I am loving this blog. Stumbled (as in the Web toolbar) across it, keep up the goodness.

CZEdwards said...

Found you from Language Log. On the now year old post regarding adjectivy, I think it links back to the late 90s, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. That was a common motif in the communal slang of the show of course got wide exposure. It's documented in Slayer Slang.