"Spooked up"

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Jack Shafer, "Week 86: FBI’s Blockbuster Probe of Trump’s Loyalty Revealed", Politico 1/12/2018:

Thanks to a redaction error made in a legal filing by convicted felon Paul Manafort’s lawyers, we learned that special counsel Mueller believes that former Trump campaign director Paul Manafort lied about passing, in spring 2016, political polling data to two Russia-aligned Ukrainian oligarchs he had previously worked for. Using his right-hand man— suspected Russian intelligence asset Konstantin Kilimnik as his go-between—the Manafort pass-through splinters Donald Trump’s protestations that his campaign was free of connections to the Russians. […]

Manafort’s partner in crime, confessed felon Rick Gates, told an associate that “Person A” (now widely known to be Kilimnik) “was a former Russian Intelligence Officer with the GRU” (the Russian military intelligence agency) according to a March 2018 Mueller filing. The filing later states that Kilimnik still had his Russian intelligence ties in 2016.  […]

If Gates knew Kilimnik was spooked up with the Russians, it stands to reason that Manafort did, too.

The phrase "spooked up with the Russians" engages some interesting aspects of English morphosyntax.

First, there's the formation of spooked, in which the suffix -ed is added to the noun spook (idiomatically meaning "spy") to make an adjective "connoting the possession or the presence of the attribute or thing expressed by the noun". At least, that's how I'd analyze it, though there's the identical suffix -ed that is added to verbs to make past participles. As the OED explains in its (1891) entry for -ed, suffix2:

Old English -ede = Old Saxon -ôdi (not represented elsewhere in Germanic, though Old Norse had adjs. similarly < nouns, with participial form and i- umlaut, as eygðr eyed, hynrdr horned):—Germanic type -ôđjo-, is appended to nouns in order to form adjectives connoting the possession or the presence of the attribute or thing expressed by the noun. The function of the suffix is thus identical with that of the Latin participial suffix -tus as used in caudātus tailed, aurītus eared, etc.; and it is possible that the Germanic -ôđjo- may originally have been < -ôđo- (see csuffix1), the suffix of past participles of verbs in -ôjan formed upon nouns. In modern English, and even in Middle English, the form affords no means of distinguishing between the genuine examples of this suffix and those participial adjectives in -ed suffix1 which are ultimately < nouns through unrecorded verbs.

Then there's the adverbial use of the intransitive preposition up. There seem to me to be two overlapping senses in Shafer's phrase "spooked up with the Russians".

The main one is an extension of the idiomatic combination of up with verbs in hook up (with), join up (with), meet up (with). In the case of hook up, the original source seems to be the idea of hanging something on a hook — but there's also the sense of up glossed by the OED as

4.c. So as to form a heap or pile, or become more prominent. (Also in figurative expressions.)

The heap or pile idea seems to be behind join up and meet up — and even more clearly behind things like clutter up, fog up, snazz up, etc.

Wiktionary gives a list of 654 English verbs with particle up, which doesn't include spook up.

The Urban Dictionary has an entry for spooked up that's clearly connected to the "more prominent heap or pile" idea:

When something or some situation is both super spooky and fucked up at the same time. Can be used to describe a situation or as an emotion.
That dog barking right next to the car while we are parked out in the woods at night has got me spooked up my dude.
That house looks pretty spooked up let's not go there.

Similarly for Teresa Carol's novel All Spooked up , or this blog post on "Getting all spooked up for Halloween".

Anyhow, Shafer's phrase seems to be a case where the meaning is a blend of several different V-ed+preposition and N-ed+preposition patterns — and this kind of idiomatic pattern blending is arguably a general property of such combinations.




  1. J. W. Brewer said,

    January 13, 2019 @ 9:38 am

    Another example where the starting point is a noun that then gets verbed might be “lawyered up.”

  2. J. W. Brewer said,

    January 13, 2019 @ 9:41 am

    Or, come to think of it, “mobbed up.”

    [(myl) Yes, "lawyered up" and "mobbed up" are similar to "spooked up", with "X-ed up" meaning something like "surrounded or associated with X".

    But note that this doesn't generalize to all relevant nouns: "spied up", "solicitered up", "barristered up", "tutored up", "bodyguarded up" don't work well.]

  3. Rodger C said,

    January 13, 2019 @ 12:33 pm

    On a minor point, to shouldn't "lied about passing" be "lied about not passing"?

  4. FM said,

    January 13, 2019 @ 12:42 pm

    Out of context, I thought "spooked up" would mean something like "caused, by frightening, to emerge", like

    Drawing my finger along the sea bottom, I spooked up a small halibut, which darted away in a cloud of mud.

  5. Shira said,

    January 13, 2019 @ 2:04 pm

    I'm with JW Brewer. I also thought of "juiced up" in the sense of "having the backing of influential people". Lawyer, mob, and juice (and spook) refer to kinds of people a subject is connected to, involved with, able to make use of, etc. And the word up maybe suggests that the subject is therefore more consequential than might be apparent? Anyway, that's how I would read it.

  6. David Marjanović said,

    January 13, 2019 @ 2:22 pm

    On a minor point, to shouldn't "lied about passing" be "lied about not passing"?

    Interesting. The way it's written is what I expect: he lied about passing the data to the oligarchs by saying he hadn't done it. But I'm not a native speaker.

  7. Yuval said,

    January 13, 2019 @ 2:32 pm

    I was thinking more along the lines of palled up or buddied up, i.e. mutually performing acts characterized by the spooking semantic field.

  8. Gregory Kusnick said,

    January 13, 2019 @ 2:55 pm

    "Mobbed up" is the obvious parallel that occurred to me. The parallel with "lawyered up" isn't quite so clear, since "lawyer up" works as a verb in a way that "mob up" and "spook up" don't (at least for me).

    I don't see a problem with "lied about passing". When asked about passing information, he lied. Seems clear enough.

    My minor digression has to do with the misplaced dash after "as his go-between". This is a common enough sort of error, but I'm curious about the cognitive mechanisms behind it. I suppose momentum carries the writer past the point of correct placement (before "as"), but then there's a nagging urge to put a closing dash somewhere, so it falls into the next available punctuation slot (which ought to contain a comma).

  9. Jerry Friedman said,

    January 13, 2019 @ 3:11 pm

    Rodger C: I've seen "lied about not doing" to mean "lied when they said they didn't do", but I like "lied about doing" better. If someone lies about a theft, there was a real theft and the person lied about it. So "he lied about passing data" means to me that he passed the data and lied about it.

  10. J.W. Brewer said,

    January 13, 2019 @ 3:35 pm

    My reaction FWIW (which could be wrong) was that this was a nonce coinage of Shafer's and thus no less weird to my ear than "tutored up" or "bodyguarded up" would have been. The other instances of "spooked up" given seem to derive (via a process that's probably more morphologically productive/regular?) from the verb "to spook" rather than this particular sense of the noun "spook."

    I agree with Gregory K.'s point re the usage difference between "lawyered up" and "mobbed up" and further agree that "spooked up" seems likely to be more parallel to the latter.

  11. Sean Richardson said,

    January 14, 2019 @ 12:57 pm

    The parallel that jumped out at me, prompted I am sure by the initial s and the k before -ed, was shacked up … overtones of the informal political phrase "in bed with".

  12. Karl Weber said,

    January 14, 2019 @ 4:39 pm

    I'm surprised that the post and the comments (so far) seem to be ignoring the use of the noun "spook" to mean "spy." Surely that's more relevant than the meaning "ghost" as in the adjective "spooky" meaning "scary." I would take "spooked up with the Russians" to mean "involved in espionage with the KGB" or some such.

  13. Bloix said,

    January 14, 2019 @ 4:55 pm

    I happened to hear the expression "babied up" on the radio this morning, meaning to have children. To my surprise, google tells me that this is a somewhat common expression, From a 2006 novel: "I got here when I was 15. I been barefoot and babied up ever since."
    From a 2016 review of one of the Bridget Jones movies: "Her mates have all settled down and babied up, so she's got a new best friend," etc.

  14. Michèle Sharik Pituley said,

    January 15, 2019 @ 5:38 pm

    @ Karl Weber: “I'm surprised that the post and the comments (so far) seem to be ignoring the use of the noun "spook" to mean "spy."”

    It’s in the post. “Idiomatically meaning “spy””

  15. David said,

    January 23, 2019 @ 2:30 am

    On a minor point, to shouldn't "lied about passing" be "lied about not passing"?

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