Annals of transitivization?

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Mark Liberman has reported on a use of the transitive verb quiesce ‘render inactive’, in a passive used adjectivally: “Server is currently quiesced”. Transitive quiesce seems to be almost entirely restricted to computer contexts, and also to be recent enough to have escaped general dictionaries.

What Mark said:

When I tried to take a look at my calendar this morning, I got a little box that told me, in red letters:

   There was a network error while attempting to log you in. Please try again. If this problem persists, please contact your network administrator.

   Administrator diagnostic information: Failure logged on 21 Nov 2008 07:35:21,243 as incident 15,241; the original exception text is:

      com.meetingmaker.sys.RpcException: Server execution error: 9334: Server is currently quiesced (auto-shutdown)

   The server log has more information on this error.

(Emphasis added.)

The idea that a server is “quiesced” is apparently a term of art for some SQL systems, but it was a new usage to me.

Some preliminary comments on the various verbs quiesce. One-volume dictionaries rarely have an entry for quiesce in any sense; NOAD2 and AHD4, for instance, have none. But the December 2007 draft revision of the OED has an entry, though only for the intransitive verb. So our story begins there.

There are two subentries, with related but clearly distinct meanings:

1. intr. Grammar. Of a letter, esp. a consonant: to become silent. Chiefly with reference to certain Semitic languages, esp. Hebrew. [with cites from 1821 to 1992]

2. intr. To become quiescent; to subside into. [full set of citations:]

1833 Wild Sports of West I. 27 Did tired nature quiesce for a moment, I was..roused with a tornado of..sounds. 1888 W. D. HOWELLS Annie Kilburn xxx. 330 The village, after a season of acute conjecture, quiesced into..sufferance of the anomaly. 1963 C. IRVING Scandal ’63 xvii. 191 The Telegraph quiesced a little, sharing the realism that all opportunists require. 1988 Toronto Star (Nexis) 18 Aug. L6 The fireballs flaring brightly and slowly quiescing into a radiance, then disappearing within the smoke. 1991 Warsaw Voice (Nexis) 17 Mar., Scandals compromising Warsaw authorities..have quiesced.

For sense 2, note the explicit connection to the adjective quiescent. In fact, the OED notes that quiescent and quiescence are considerably older than quiesce (they are attested from 1605 and 1625, respectively). So quiesce could be back-formed from (one or both of) these, or it could be a fresh innovation directly from Latin quie:scere ‘to come to rest, to be quiet’.

On to transitive quiesce. Not in general dictionaries, but then there’s the Free On-Line Dictionary of Computing, with an entry for transitive quiesce and one for the compound quiesce time, both dated 2000-03-05:


 <networking> To render quiescent, i.e. temporarily inactive or disabled. For example to quiesce a device (such as a digital modem). It is also a system command in MAX TNT software which is used to “Temporarily disable a modem or DS0 channel”.

 Also used as an adjective, in the expression “quiesce time“.

   quiesce time

 <jargon> The length of time taken to quiesce a system (to render it inactive), or the length of time between periods of inactivity.

Googling on {“quiesce the”} pulls up a huge number of examples, all apparently in computer contexts. A sampling of the nouns following this expression:

subtree, data pump, data files, database, table space, masters, file system, volume group, repository, driver, farm, form, application, connection

There are also hits for unquiesce, denoting the reversal of quiescing. And a very very small number of hits for intransitive quiesce in a computer context, for instance:

After the virtual devices have quiesced at point B 402, they can be saved (link)

Finally, there are also a huge number of passive examples of transitive quiesce, of several types:

How a Database Is Quiesced. The database administrator uses the ALTER SYSTEM QUIESCE RESTRICTED statement to quiesce the database. (link)

Description: There should be a simple way to verify the integrity of the data files all at once, with the database quiesced. (link)

At this point, the database becomes quiesced and the DBA can perform administrative tasks without interference. (link)

System and method for verification of a quiesced database copy (link)

(The first example is of a “true passive” clause, while the other three have past participle verb forms with passive sense, but used adjectivally in several ways.)

Now the puzzle. Ordinarily, we’d expect innovative transitives to arise from (inchoative) intransitives by “causative transitivization”, a.k.a. “causativization”, as in the case of the much-reviled grow the company ‘make the company grow’. But in this case, there are hardly any occurrences of intransitive quiesce in the computer context (and not all that many outside this context). So we’re probably not looking at transitivization. 

Instead, it looks like transitive quiesce is back-formed from the adjective quiescent; quiesce is ‘make quiescent’ — or ‘render quiescent’, as in the FOLDOC entry above.

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