Going quant

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From "Are Metrics Blinding Our Perception?" by Anand Giridharadas (New York Times/International Herald Tribune, 11/21/09):

In the Age of Metrics, vocation after vocation is discovering numbers. Doctors are going quant with evidence-based medicine, which promises to improve care by quantifying different treatments' probabilities of success. Wall Street has gone quant, with financial models automating trading — sometimes brilliantly, sometimes disastrously. Academia has gone quant, with once-humanistic fields like politics, on which I work at Harvard, studied in a more rigorous way, but at the price of having ever less to say about the world's big questions. Even charity, built on the instinct of altruism, has gone quant.

For a history of the phrase go quant, with links back to Mark Liberman's discussion of go rogue and other go + PREDICATIVE constructions, see my latest Word Routes column on the Visual Thesaurus.


  1. David Denison said,

    November 24, 2009 @ 3:06 am

    This example struck me when I read it:

    These lab experiments began to show that earthquakes could, in theory, go supershear. (July 29, 2009, by Richard Fisher, New Scientist)

    though it fits in with your examples in the Word Routes column, including the sense of deterioration (a supershear quake can be more destructive than others, apparently). I'm not clear what category _supershear_ would be – probably N, though frequently used as premodifier – but in any case, in _go X_ phrases the X seems to be constrained not by category but by semantics. I wonder whether that's a peculiarity of _go_. Dick Hudson once pointed out another _go X_ usage where _go_ subcategorised not for a part of speech but for an extralinguistic noise such as a raspberry, and of course there's the quotative use too.

  2. Benjamin Zimmer said,

    November 24, 2009 @ 3:31 am

    @David: I focused on the ADJ complements of go in the Word Routes column, but N complements are of course possible. The OED entry has: "Also with n. complement: to become, use, or adopt the characteristics of (something specified)," with examples like go Hollywood. Here's an early study:

    Jones, Joseph. "Some Semantic Observations on Certain Uses of go." [Univ. of Texas] Studies in English, No 16 (1936), pp. 42-52.
    Go in the verb-adverb combination, as in go through, with
    substantives, as in go Hollywood, with adjectives, as in go bad,
    with other verbs, as in go hang, and in figurative phrases, such as
    go to the dogs.

    (In fact, now that I think of it, quant may make more sense as a noun complement, standing for quantitative analysis rather than quantitative.)

  3. Colin John said,

    November 24, 2009 @ 9:02 am

    Completely new expression for me. I've only come across 'quant' (n & v) as a pole used to propel boats, particularly on the waterways of Eastern England.

  4. Terry Collmann said,

    November 24, 2009 @ 10:04 am

    To most Britons over 50, "going Quant" would suggest trimming your pubic hair into a heart shape (see here for reference).

  5. J. W. Brewer said,

    November 24, 2009 @ 10:25 am

    In addition to the "deterioration" uses mentioned, there seems to be a use in art/entertainment contexts where "go X" means adopt the style/genre X as distinguished from the same artist/performer's prior style/genre, without any necessary judgment being implied whether this change is good, bad, or neutral. E.g. (from googling), "West Virginia Symphony goes heavy metal" or "[Woody] Allen goes expressionist." I think "go quant" is more analogous to this usage than to "go rogue."

  6. Benjamin Zimmer said,

    November 24, 2009 @ 11:23 am

    @J.W.B.: A good observation. Bob Dylan "going electric" might be the locus classicus for that construction. (Of course, the folkies considered that deterioration.) These days we more often hear of pop stars "going country."

  7. J. W. Brewer said,

    November 24, 2009 @ 12:12 pm

    I was three weeks old when Dylan made that fateful appearance in Newport, so understandably I can't give an autobiographical account of the first use of the construction in a musical-style context (although I certainly remember various established recording artists trying to "go disco" when I was in junior high). But several years before Dylan going electric there was "Gidget Goes Hawaiian," which is kinda sorta similar. I don't know enough about the historical use of "go Hollywood" to know whether it was originally deterioration-focused (meaning "selling out") or neutral/descriptive and thus equally compatible with a positive evaluation ("making it big").

  8. Ozzie Maland said,

    November 24, 2009 @ 12:47 pm

    The colloquial expression, "go crazy," and its variations, would seem common enough to be included in dictionaries, but AFAIK, such is not the case. I'm sure it's very old. Is it on topic in this discussion?

  9. Benjamin Zimmer said,

    November 24, 2009 @ 1:09 pm

    @Ozzie: Mark quoted the OED entry for go in the post I linked to. That doesn't specifically cover all the variations — for instance, go crazy gets listed under crazy. But you're right, it's very old:

    The Pilot's boy, Who now doth crazy go, Laugh'd loud and long.
    (Samuel Coleridge, Rime of the Ancient Mariner, 1798)

  10. Ken Brown said,

    November 26, 2009 @ 9:14 pm

    Terry Collmann said: "To most Britons over 50, "going Quant" would suggest trimming your pubic hair into a heart shape"

    Maybe over 60? I'm over 50 and Mary Quant mostly passed me by before I took an interest in such things… to me "quant" is a 1990s (or possibly late 1980s) term for a scientist or mathematician working in financial modelling.

    I don't remember "go quant" before but it doesn't strike me as odd.

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