Verb, adjective, noun, whatever…

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Annie Lowrey, "As Automatic Budget Cuts Go Into Effect, Poor May Be Hit Particularly Hard", NYT 3/3/2013:

“President Obama proclaimed that the sequester’s ‘brutal’ and ‘severe’ cuts will ‘eviscerate’ America’s domestic spending,” Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, wrote in a recent article published by “But ‘eviscerate’ is not the adjective I would use; in fact, I believe the sequester is a pittance.”

The cited article is Rand Paul, "Rand Paul Says Sequester is the First Step to Solving Spending Problem", Investors' Business Daily 2/28/2013.


  1. KevinM said,

    March 4, 2013 @ 3:18 pm

    "Sequester" is not the noun I'd use, either. Merriam-W online entry, no doubt developed before 2013, says sequester as a noun is "rare," but notes occurrences dating back to the 1600's. A couple of other dictionaries I checked didn't have a noun definition at all. But it seems to have caught on.

  2. Steve Downey said,

    March 4, 2013 @ 3:36 pm

    Of course eviscerate is a participial adjective, meaning drawn from the bowels of the earth. The eviscerate would be, I suppose, the monies ripped from the bowels of the federal budget.
    Not exactly what President Obama said, though.

  3. John Spevacek said,

    March 4, 2013 @ 3:44 pm

    "Noun, pronoun, whatever it takes…"

  4. Michael Newman said,

    March 4, 2013 @ 5:37 pm

    If Rand Paul says it's an adjective, that's good enough for me. I don't need pointy headed linguists to tell me otherwise. :)

  5. J.W. Brewer said,

    March 4, 2013 @ 7:09 pm

    Is the adjective "eviscerate" pronounced differently than the verb "eviscerate," perhaps by analogy to the adjective "precipitate" (unstressed final syllable with reduced vowel) versus verb "precipitate" (secondarily-stressed final syllable with unreduced vowel)?

  6. Chris C. said,

    March 4, 2013 @ 7:22 pm

    "Sequester" is not the noun I'd use, either.

    And that's why you're not in Congress or the White House.

  7. Brett said,

    March 4, 2013 @ 7:38 pm

    @J.W. Brewer: I would expect the adjective "eviscerate" to be pronounced with a reduced vowel, although I don't think I've ever encountered it, in speech or even in writing. What interested me was your comparison to "precipitate." I agree with you about the pronunciation of the adjective and verb forms, but it occurred to I hear the noun "precipitate" pronounced both ways. I suspect that the verb pronunciation is more common, but I'm not sure; I should probably ask some of the chemists down the hall which pronunciation they prefer.

  8. Matt Pearson said,

    March 5, 2013 @ 12:38 am

    The OED lists the adjective "eviscerate" as having a reduced vowel in "-ate". It also gives only one citation, from 1830, so the word is rare at best.

  9. G Jones said,

    March 5, 2013 @ 7:49 am


    Did you look up sequestration?

  10. Observation said,

    March 5, 2013 @ 7:51 am

    Strangely enough, it's very common in Hong Kong to mistake a verb (動詞) or noun (名詞) for an adjective (形容詞). I have been wondering if this error is as widespread in other parts of the world, and it now seems that it is.

    I think part of the reason is because 形容詞 is formed by the word 形容 ('describe') and the morpheme 詞 ('word'), so some may fall into the trap of thinking that any word that 'describes' is a 形容詞. However, this does not seem to be a plausible explanation for Paul's mistake.

  11. Jon Weinberg said,

    March 5, 2013 @ 9:00 am

    Googling for ' "is not the adjective I would use" -eviscerate ', I notice two things. First, "is not the adjective I would use" has an order of magnitude more ghits than "is not the verb I would use," which in turn has orders of magnitude more than "is not the noun I would use." Second, the vast majority of the non-eviscerate hits for "is not the adjective I would use" do indeed feature adjectives. But I also see "charmer", "intimacy", and "success" among the adjectives that some people wouldn't use.

  12. Jimbino said,

    March 5, 2013 @ 9:39 am

    Rand Paul is right: Not even "decimate."

  13. Rodger C said,

    March 5, 2013 @ 11:03 am

    However, this does not seem to be a plausible explanation for Paul's mistake.

    Actually I think it is. Paul seems to using "adjective" to mean "word used in a description."

    If you're not part of the solution, tot of the precipitate.

  14. Rodger C said,

    March 5, 2013 @ 11:04 am

    *you're part of the precipitate. Feeble joke. I have no idea what happened there.

  15. Faldone said,

    March 5, 2013 @ 12:11 pm

    The Language Log feeble joke filter has some bugs in it.

  16. Theophylact said,

    March 5, 2013 @ 4:32 pm

    Chemical humor is just one level above vitreous humor.

  17. KevinM said,

    March 6, 2013 @ 2:19 pm

    @G Jones
    That's what I was implying – that "sequestration," not "sequester," is the common noun form (at least until now). For example, sequestration, in my business, is what you call that thing they do with juries.

  18. Mike Koplow said,

    March 6, 2013 @ 5:11 pm

    It sounds to me like Paul was exactly right. "'Eviscerate' is not the adjective I would use." Of course it isn't. If it isn't an adjective, then it's not the adjective he would use. Objectivistically speaking [badoomp-clang].

  19. Alyssa said,

    March 8, 2013 @ 1:33 pm

    I wonder to what extent he was influenced by the fact that of the three words he quotes, the first two actually *are* adjectives – "brutal" and "severe".

  20. Paul Kay said,

    March 8, 2013 @ 7:51 pm

    I think Joe Weinberg (and others?) may be on to something. Googling "the wrong adjective" turns up that property predicated of take, strategy, and severely. A former secretary in the Linguistics Department at Berkeley once reacted to a faculty members utrance of the word shit with "I don't like your adjectives!" There may be some kind of minor trope out there according to which any word whose use in the present context the speaker objects to may be referred to as an adjective.

  21. Rodger C said,

    March 9, 2013 @ 12:46 pm

    Perhaps the secretary was reaching for "expletives."

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