V + Prt~Ø

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Languagehat has posted about an oddity in the New Yorker:

My wife was reading John McPhee's New Yorker article about fact checking … when she asked me what I thought about this sentence: "One technician who slipped up and used the 'R' word [radiation] was called to an office and chewed." "Chewed?" I said. "Not 'chewed out'?" She confirmed the reading. I said it must be a typo.

So maybe (ironically) "a flagrant typo in an article about fact checking", or maybe some creativity on McPhee's part, a vivid metaphor bringing the chew of chew out back to life.

It turns out that you can find other occurrences of chew conveying something very close to chew out 'reprimand' (an idiom the OED describes as colloquial and chiefly U.S.). And other pairs of plain V in alternation with V plus a "particle" (Prt); the phenomenon is related to, but distinct from, the direct/oblique alternations I posted on yesterday.

[Update 2/15: languagehat now reports: 

As the excellent MMcM points out, the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, Vol. 1 has this usage under "chew": "v. 3 Esp. Mil. chew out."]

First, the plain chew cases, starting with some that are passive (as in the McPhee sentence):

i didnt search to see if someone asked this before, but i remember someone asking and he got chewed cus people thought he was like promoting warez and all. but do you know what you can do with these smc files? (link)

He got chewed in another thread about it too. Wouldnt take offense. (link)

I got chewed for not D/Cing an iv the doc said was not infusing although I had flushed it and run a drip and flushed it again without difficulty (link)

I'm tired and not just a little miffed over the above situation. Especially since I got chewed by my boss for taking too much time. (link)

Then a couple of active ones:

I was driving along at a good rate and overtook a car. Didn't realise it was the girlfriend's old pair. They chewed me when I landed at the house that evening. "Do you realise the speed you were going…..dangerous…..not right in the head….. blah…..blah…..blah" (link)

The doctor chewed him Royally, for not staying on the medication, and yet the doc didn't even ask him to have his cholesterol checked. (link)

Commenters on languagehat's posting suggested other Prt~Ø pairs: transitive piss (off), in "That really pisses me off" / "That really pisses me", and intransitive hang (out), in "Kim and I like to hang out (with each other)" / "Kim and I like to hang (with each other)", for instance. The more recent innovations (including chew (out)) are probably developing subtle meaning differences for some speakers. The pairs that have been around for a while are certainly differentiated: cf. "Strike out that last sentence" / "Strike that last sentence" and "Kim cursed him out" / "Kim cursed him", for example.

As with the P~Ø pairs, each case has its own history, its own syntactic peculiarities, its own semantic/pragmatic profile, and its own sociolinguistic profile. I haven't studied any of these cases in any detail; my only point here is to note the phenomenon.

And to say a few words about the preposition/particle distinction, though it's one that comes up every so often here on Language Log. (I'll stick to the traditional term preposition here, and to the term particle as used in the 20th-century literature on English syntax, though there are good reasons for amending the terminology.) In a V+P sequence (as in "We hiked up the hill"), the combination is not a constituent; instead the P forms a constituent, a PP, with the following NP, as shown by various tests: for instance, the PP can be fronted as a unit, as in "Up the hill we hiked". In a V+Prt sequence (as in "We looked up Kim's address"), the combination is a constituent, a kind of two-part verb that exhibits some special syntax not available for V+P sequences: in particular, the two parts can stay together or they can "wrap around" a direct object (as in "We looked Kim's address up"; cf. *"We hiked the hill up").

There's a lot more, but this should serve to give some sense of the distinction. V+P and V+Prt are easily confounded, because of the tight semantic relationship between the two parts in many cases, but syntactically they are very different.



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