To gay marry

« previous post | next post »

Along with "I like the crotch on the idea…" on composer Nico Muhly's blog (commented on here) comes a use of the verb gay marry, in

I did an interview with a guy in Seattle – totally random, I had never met him before – who had such a smart, interesting read on the piece [Muhly's most recent album, Mothertongue], I wanted to gay marry him right there on the phone.

The moderately common gay marry is undoubtedly a back-formation from gay marriage (with its non-predicating modification), the result being a compound verb of a pattern (Adj + V) that's not at all productive in English. Meanwhile, some people have asked me why anyone would use gay marry at all; why not just use marry?

(Background: Muhly is openly gay.)

A few more cites:

Massachusetts Supreme Court Orders All Citizens To Gay Marry. BOSTON—Justices of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled 5-2 Monday in favor of full, equal, and mandatory gay marriages for all citizens. The order nullifies all pre-existing heterosexual marriages and lays the groundwork for the 2.4 million compulsory same-sex marriages that will take place in the state by May 15 [2004]. (link) [This is The Onion, folks; it's a joke.]

While I guess it should be legal to practice homosexualliy in privacy, I believe it should be illegal to gay marry or to show gay affection in public. If this kind of thing is allowed, marriage in this country will go strait to hell. (comment by "Feast of Flesh" here)

That's 41 states' worth of gays that need a place to gay marry and settle down. (link)

A fair number of the hits have gay marry used merely to express fondness or approval for someone or something, with no necessary reference to same-sex relationships, as on this blog:

Here are the best and worst of the week that was: the ideas, goods and people we want to gay marry … and the ones John McCain would appoint strict constitutionalist jurists to restrict our access to. (link)

Muhly's use seems to me to lie somewhere in between the entirely literal use ('marry someone of the same sex') and the fully extended, merely approbative, use.

If you want a figurative expression to indicate approval, then marry probably won't do, but the trendy and noticeable gay marry might serve. But why would anyone use gay marry literally, when the context almost always makes the sex of the marriage partner clear? Isn't gay marry redundant (and wordy) in context?

Well, yes and no. Marry by itself will suffice in many situations. When my friends Mike and Aric got married (here in California) last month, no one said "Aric and Mike got gay married"; that would have been pointless. But someone you know to be gay might well tell you, "I hope to gay marry some day", and that would not necessarily be pointless; if your friend had said "I hope to marry some day", you could work it out that your friend was looking foward to same-sex marriage, but "gay marry" makes this explicit.

Sometimes explicitness is a good thing, even if it's not strictly necessary. We've looked at a number of such cases here on Language Log, in particular with reference to appositive vs. intersective modification. Some time ago I looked at the appositive modification in pilotless drones (used of planes), pointing out that though drones are by definition pilotless, it can be useful to remind people of this fact.

Meanwhile, representatives of the current U.S. administration (in particular GWB) meticulously avoid plain timetable to refer to plans for disengagement in Iraq, but insist on the appositive modification in arbitrary/artificial timetable, to emphasize their belief that all timetables are arbitrary or artificial, and use other expressions for disengagement plans: "general time horizon" (reported by the NYT with "timeline") and now "aspirational goals" (as reported on the front page of today's NYT — though the Times seems to have lost patience with the administration's language-spinning and refers to the draft accord as setting a "withdrawal timetable").

Comments are closed.