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Backformation of Compound Verbs

Back-formation (ept < inept, enthuse < enthusiasm, etc.) is a frequent process in the history of English and the source of interesting neologisms. One  subset of the process that is particularly typical of trade jargons (but not only) is a kind of univerbation, whereby a phrase consisting of verb + direct object is transformed into a compound verb containing the object as the first constituent, viz. fundraise (< raise funds), schoolteach (< teach school), bartend (< tend bar), bikeride (< ride a bike), etc.

It may seem as if there is no semantic difference between the verb phrase and its univerbative back-formation, but there is, namely the meaning of habitual action, as in a trade. Thus someone who bikerides does so habitually, and explicitly so, whereas someone who rides a bike is non-committal as to habitual action. Similarly, someone who bartends does so for a livelihood, and so on.

This situation is akin to the verbal category of aspect, perfective and imperfective, in languages like the Slavic family––or English, for that matter––where habituality is associated exclusively with (one of the meanings of) the imperfective.

MICHAEL SHAPIRO

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