"Cooperate him"

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Frequent commenter AntC sent email about a transitive use of cooperate, used by Karen Friedman Agnifilo in an interview with Michael Popok about Walt Nauta's role in the Mar-a-Lago classified documents case:

And so it makes sense why
uh they would want to cooperate him
and i- it also makes sense why they would reach out before indictment
and give him that opportunity.

AntC's analysis:

Donald Trump continues to make legal and linguistic history. That's a transitive usage of "co-operate"; _not_ "co-operate with him". (All the online dictionaries or usage guides I could find are firmly of the opinion 'co-operate' is intransitive; 'co-operate him' is a mistake for 'co-operate with him'.)

It seems to be a specialised legal term: to turn an accused/potential defendant/conspirator into a co-operating witness testifying against the 'big fish'.

I think he's wrong that this usage is "a mistake for 'co-operate with him'" — instead, it's an example of the general Causative/Inchoative Alternation:

The Causative/Inchoative alternation involves pairs of verbs, one of which is causative and the other non-causative syntactically and semantically (e.g., John broke the window vs. The window broke).

The case of cooperate is a different from the standard Englisdh examples like break, boil, increase, etc., because the subject of its intransitive version can be the a group of cooperators as well as an individual cooperator — though the morpho-syntactic and semantic patterns of such verbs are diverse (e.g. meet, join, agree, play, …)

But AntC is right that this is a specialized legal usage. And his gloss "to turn an accused/potential defendant/conspirator into a co-operating witness" — is transparently causative.

Another recent example, also connected to one of the Trump cases, can be found in "Trump organization executive granted immunity. TRANSCRIPT: 8/24/2018, All In w Chris Hayes":

And it may just be that they wanted to charge Michael Cohen with the crimes that they had him on and that everybody knew about before it got too late. And then you start to bring him in and cooperate him.

And there are plenty more of them Out There, unconnected with any of Donald Trump's indictments.

Web search turns up other examples of  "cooperate <someone>" that do match AntC's "cooperate with <someone>" analysis, suggesting either that it's a common error in typing or speech, or that there are some varieties of English where this  usage is the norm.

Here's the YouTube YouTube segment that started this off:



  1. Jim Gordon said,

    May 25, 2024 @ 7:17 am

    I'll betcha nickel that it's a confusion of cooperate and coopt.

  2. Joe said,

    May 25, 2024 @ 7:39 am

    It's probably just informal job jargon, like the discussion we had recently about a university that would "trespass a student", or a waiter who would bring you "an orange juice" or a computer administrator who's asked to do "another install". People who discuss the same concept together very often will find the simplest logical shorthand for it. It's only surprising and interesting when they do that through grammatical sleight-of-hand instead of just coming up with an acronym as workplaces usually do.

  3. Daniel Deutsch said,

    May 25, 2024 @ 7:45 am

    The grammar also reflects power dynamics. If a suspect cooperates, being the subject of the sentence indicates agency. But if the prosecutor cooperates him, the prosecutor has the muscle.

  4. Kent McKeever said,

    May 25, 2024 @ 8:48 am

    I assume this is similar to the use of "certificated" to mean a person or action that has been approved via a process that ends in a certificate. I found it jarring when I frst ran across it, but realized it does represent a concept slightly different from certified.

  5. Philip Taylor said,

    May 25, 2024 @ 8:51 am

    Joe — « a waiter who would bring you "an orange juice" » — what is unusual about that ? It seems a perfectly normal construction to me. Is this perhaps an <Am/.E> / <Br.> difference — would Americans normally ask a waiter to bring them "a glass of orange juice" ?

  6. Michèle Sharik Pituley said,

    May 25, 2024 @ 10:01 am

    @Philip: no, “bring you an orange juice” is a perfectly cromulent American usage.

  7. Coby said,

    May 25, 2024 @ 10:24 am

    Isn't this transitive use of "cooperate" similar to that of "disappear"?

  8. Rodger C said,

    May 25, 2024 @ 11:34 am

    Transitive "disappear" is, I think, a calque from Argentinian Spanish.

  9. Cervantes said,

    May 25, 2024 @ 11:48 am

    In legal parlance "to violate" someone is to report them for a violation of bail or probation conditions. The person who committed the violation gets violated. This seems a similar evolution.

  10. Sniffnoy said,

    May 25, 2024 @ 12:00 pm

    Yeah I've heard this now and then on the "Serious Trouble" podcast and its predecessor "All the President's Lawyers". I'm guessing it's been around a lot longer and just hasn't been in the public eye until now.

  11. VVOV said,

    May 25, 2024 @ 1:06 pm

    In medicine and clinical research, an example of this usage that’s always struck me as particularly jarring is “to consent someone” (meaning, to request or obtain their consent).

    “I consented 5 participants for the study today” = 5 people gave me their consent to participate.

    “The surgeon consented her for a cholecystectomy” = she gave the surgeon her consent to remove her gallbladder.

  12. J.W. Brewer said,

    May 25, 2024 @ 2:59 pm

    I don't recognize this usage, but my own law practice only rarely touches on criminal matters, and it certainly seems like plausible prosecutor-jargon. While transitive "disappear" may historically be a calque from Spanish, I agree with Coby that this is a parallel phenomenon. Which probably says something about the potentialities of English rather than some analogy drawn to a calque-from-Spanish that, one hopes, is not used with too much frequency by American prosecutors?

    For VVOV's examples, maybe "the surgeon obtained her consent" would be a better non-jargon gloss than "she gave the surgeon her consent," because it keeps the same focus on who is actually driving the situation and who is reacting, without necessarily suggesting that the consent wasn't voluntary (for whatever level of voluntariness is thought requisite by the governing norms). Although of course in the prosecutor situation, sometimes it's the cooperator-to-be (via his or her own lawyer) who is taking the initiative to pitch the prosecutors on the value that their erstwhile target can offer as a cooperator in return for sufficient leniency.

  13. Jason M said,

    May 25, 2024 @ 4:08 pm

    Expanding on @VVOV’s point about medical use of “consenting”: not only is this one way of expressing this concept, it may be the most common in this context, because medical consent is a strictly regulated piece of paperwork. To “consent” someone means you are using the legal consent process approved by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) for the particular study. Someone merely giving their consent for something could mean anything.

  14. Xtifr said,

    May 25, 2024 @ 4:39 pm

    Reminds me a bit of how you can say that a studio or label signed an artist.

  15. Jon said,

    May 25, 2024 @ 11:16 pm

    In Britain, to statement a child is to issue an official statement of special educational needs, unlocking access to extra resources.

  16. Viseguy said,

    May 26, 2024 @ 1:49 am

    Sounds like macho prosecutor-speak. We didn't offer the guy leniency in exchange for his favorable testimony, we "cooperated him". Yeah.

  17. Pamela said,

    May 26, 2024 @ 9:21 am

    All look like the descendants of News-at-Six birth of "impact" as a transitive verb, which once becoming ubiquitous in more formal writing not only blunted the precision (and appeal) of English but gave people the idea that all intransitive verbs could be made intransitive. The next step was to make verbal nouns, or primary nouns, into verbs, e.g. "suicided," "transitioned." Some of this is very old, I know–for instance "graduate" is transitive or intransitive, passive or active, depending on country, decade, century. I'm only opposed when clarity is lost, though in bureaucratic writing clarity seems a very low priority, perhaps even something to be studiously avoided. It really is important to know whether any action or condition is effected passively or actively. It is a pretty fundamental aspect of fact. I for instance, think my students have been graduated. They think they graduated. A world of difference.

  18. AntC said,

    May 26, 2024 @ 3:52 pm

    I'm only opposed when clarity is lost,

    Yeah, that was my Latin master's constant complaint about supposedly new-fangled usage. And he was talking about Caesar's debasing of the language. The Gallic Wars are a mess of vagaries, allegedly.

    Then I have to say the transitive "co-operate him" was abundantly clear as soon as I heard it. It's merely an unfamiliar (to me) usage. Perhaps you'd like to propose an alternative way to express the same, and which is more perspicuous?

  19. Thomas Lumley said,

    May 26, 2024 @ 7:40 pm

    @VVOV I saw a further abstraction of transitive 'consent' recently on a building site. It said (along with credits to other companies for other participation) "this project consented by [company name]"

    The derivation here is that Auckland Council gives consent to construction projects that satisfy zoning rules and building codes and so on. [Company name] applied to and negotiated with Auckland Council on this process. The added feature is that the organisation giving the consent does not appear at all in the sentence.

  20. Yves Rehbein said,

    May 27, 2024 @ 9:48 am

    This reminds me (!) the "gentle onsets" https://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=63181

    Because I can't brook the jargon of legal registers, it is much more comforting to assume that they accidentally … a word. @Daniel Deutscher is correct, "The grammar also reflects power dynamics."

    On one hand, the long arm of the law tends to be conservative. Since co- means "with", it might be the case that "cooperate with" was redundant. If I read L&S correctly, Late Latin cŏ-ŏpĕror is a deponent verb, grammatically passive with active semantics (1), and transfered semantics (2), in Vulgate translation:

    1. “praedicaverunt ubique, Domino coöperante,” Vulg. Marc. 16, 20; Cassiod. Hist. Eccl. 9, 19.—

    Note that "Domino" seems to be conjugated for dative.

    "Cooperante" appears to be participle'ish like German adj. interessant "interesting, of interest", e.g., as Italian present participle cooperànte practically confirms.

    2. “quoniam fides coöperabatur operibus ejus,” “diligentibus Deum omnia cooperantur in bonum,”



  21. KevinM said,

    May 27, 2024 @ 11:56 am

    From professional experience, I can state that they definitely mean "to turn him into a cooperating witness." It's the conferral of a beneficial change in status, and, with rare exceptions, only the prosecution has the power to instigate it. The transitive verb, with the prosecutor as subject, therefore makes a certain amount of sense. So, pace a couple of the commentators, the usage reflects more than just prosecutorial machismo. Prosecutors, by the way, are accustomed to saying that they obtained someone's testimony by immunizing them, so the extension to this context (which requires more in the way of the witness's consent) probably seemed natural.

  22. Benjamin E. Orsatti said,

    May 28, 2024 @ 8:24 am

    It's not that I object to "verbing" nouns and vice-versa per se, it's just that, in languages that do this sort of thing as a matter of course (e.g. Hebrew, pre-modern Greek), don't they typically distinguish between actor and agent in the grammar? In other words, "midddle-voice" "cooperate" is visually indistinguishable from this new "active voice" "cooperate", such that the reader has to stop a moment and work out the implied grammar instead of reading along fluently.

  23. Benjamin E. Orsatti said,

    May 28, 2024 @ 8:28 am

    P.S. I know it's not "verbing", it's converting intransitive to transitive, but I skipped a bunch of steps to get to the conclusion — any time you use language idiosyncratically, there should be a grammatical "marker" to distinguish it, but what would that marker look like?

  24. JPL said,

    May 28, 2024 @ 7:51 pm

    In the case of the pair "The window broke" vs. "John broke the window", the only difference in what is expressed by the two sentences is in the fact that the first describes a situation only in terms of a change in properties of an object, while the second adds the expression of an agent. Otherwise, either of these sentences could truthfully describe one and the same objective situation (what is expressed by the sentence as a whole is not the same, of course), and the contribution of the lexical item 'break' is constant. (The differences are contributed by the respective syntactic schemata, or, as I think it's Fillmoreans would call them, "frames"). In contrast, in the case of the pair in the OP ("The prosecution cooperated with the witness" vs. "The prosecution cooperated the witness"), these two sentences could not truthfully describe one and the same objective situation, but would necessarily describe different situations: the first is a normal use of the verb 'cooperate' to describe a situation where the participants are in agreement wrt purpose, etc., but the second describes the application of a complex legal procedure to changing the mind of a witness, etc., and is not a situation that would be described by 'cooperate' in its normal usage. (A prosecutor seeking to flip a witness is not the same kind of a situation as a prosecutor working with the witness after an agreement has been reached,) WRT the lexeme, this use introduces an innovation, a new sense of the lexeme, distinguished pretty sharply from the previous senses, and its contribution to what is expressed by the sentence is different from that of the first case.

    Commenters above have, I think correctly, noted the similarity of this case to others, involving the lexemes 'trespass' and 'consent', as well as the lexical nouns 'certificate' and 'statement' and the already transitive 'violate'. The situations described by these novel expressions all seem to involve the application or invocation, in a legal or quasi-legal context, of a complex procedure for changing the status of somebody, the kind of situation typically described in English by the schema called "transitive", i.e., the unmarked expression of a verbal complement. Again, like the case of 'cooperate', the situation described by the innovative use is not one that would be described by the respective lexeme in its normal usage. So I would say that the innovative use is not the result of simply putting the verbal lexeme into an unfamiliar syntactic schema, but a response to the need for a shorthand way of referring to a complex procedure, and using the verbal element to stand in for the whole.

  25. JPL said,

    May 28, 2024 @ 8:24 pm

    BTW, I'm not an English grammarian, but we can notice that these three items ('cooperate', 'trespass', 'consent') all normally (not obligatorily) occur with two central "participant roles" expressed ("cooperate with X", "trespass upon X", "consent to X"), not just one, as with, e.g., 'sleep' or 'fall', which are typical "one argument" intransitives; just that with these three verbs the second role is not expressed with the unmarked verbal complement, but with "oblique object" schemata. Like with other oblique objects, sentences containing them can be passivized (even though they might sound a bit odd, they seem at least possible):

    "This property was trespassed upon (by the defendant)."
    "This procedure was consented to (by the patient)."
    "This is a person who was cooperated with (by the defendant), (not a person who was rejected by him)."

    As with the case of "John broke the window" vs. "The window broke", either the active or the passive could be used to truthfully describe one and the same objective situation, but the novel uses in question could not be so used. So I would say the novel uses are not the result of a mere increase in the participant roles expressed, but rather the use of these lexemes in the new syntactic context is the result of the need for a shorthand verbal label for a complex procedure as a technical term in a legal or quasi-legal context, where the objective situation described by the term belongs to the category typically described by the "transitive" schema, which phenomenon looks like indeed a "thing".

  26. Philip Anderson said,

    May 30, 2024 @ 3:39 pm

    The wry phrase “to volunteer someone” involves making an intransitive verb transitive, or passive as “I was volunteered”, but there’s no “oblique object”, except for a usually implicit verb.
    I interpret “he was cooperated” as similar to “he was volunteered to cooperate“.

  27. JPL said,

    May 30, 2024 @ 5:30 pm

    @Philip Anderson:

    So far, so good. They are indeed similar in that respect, and also similar in that the wry expression, "Max volunteered Mr Jones" could not be used to truthfully describe the same situation as a typical situation of volunteering, such as, "Max volunteered (for the job)", so a novel sense for the lexeme (previously only involving the voluntary taking on of a responsibility). They are also similar in that the passive versions could be used to truthfully describe the same situation as the respective active versions. The difference is that 'volunteer' does not so commonly take an oblique object, although there is, "He volunteered for that job/ That job was already volunteered for (by Max)"; it more often takes a clausal complement, that apparently is not available for passivization. I don't think taking an oblique object is a necessary condition for this phenomenon, only that the situation referred to should have the kind of properties that would be described appropriately by the "transitive" schema. But, like 'cooperate', the "transitive" use of 'volunteer' involves creation of a novel sense for the lexeme.

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