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Scholars are not agreed on the question of compound verbs. This problem indeed can be argued in several different ways. It is not even clear whether verbal compositions exist in present-day English, though such verbs as outgrow, overflow, stand up, black-list, stage-manage and whitewash are often called compound verbs. There are even more complications to the problem than meet the eye.

H. Marchand, whose work has been quoted so extensively in the present chapter, treats outgrow and overflow as unquestionable compounds, although he admits that the type is not productive and that locative particles are near to prefixes. “The Concise Oxford Dictionary", on the other hand, defines out- and over- as prefixes used both for verbs and nouns; this approach classes outgrow and overflow as derivatives, which seems convincing.

The stand-up type was in turns regarded as a phrase, a compound and a derivative; its nature has been the subject of much discussion (see § 6.2.4).

The verbs blackmail and stage-manage belong to two different groups because they show different correlations with the rest of the vocabulary.

blackmail v = honeymoon v = nickname v

blackmail n honeymoon n nickname n

The verbs blackmail, honeymoon and nickname are, therefore, cases of conversion from endocentric nominal compounds. The type stage-manage may be referred to back-formation. The correlation is as follows:

stage-manage v = proof-read v = housekeep v
stage-manager n proof-reader n housekeeper n

The second element in the first group is a noun stem; in the second group it is always verbal.

Some examples of the first group are the verbs safeguard, nickname, shipwreck, whitewash, tiptoe, outline, honeymoon, blackmail, hero-worship. All these exist in English for a long time. The 20th century created week-end, double-cross ‘betray’, stream-line, softpedal, spotlight.

The type is especially productive in colloquial speech and slang, particularly in American English.

The second group is less numerous than the first but highly productive in the 20th century. Among the earliest coinages are backbite (1300) and browbeat (1603), then later ill-treat, house-keep. The 20th century has coined hitch-hike (cf. hitch-hiker) ‘to travel from place to place by asking motorists for free rides’; proof-read (cf. proof-reader) ‘to read and correct printer’s proofs’; compare also mass-produce, taperecord and vacuum-clean. The most recent is hijack ‘make pilots change the course of aeroplanes by using violence’ which comes from the slang word hijacker explained in the Chambers’s Dictionary as ‘a highwayman or a robber and blackmailer of bootleggers’ (smugglers of liquor).

The structural integrity of these combinations is supported by the order of constituents which is a contrast to the usual syntactic pattern where the verb stem would come first. Cf. to read proofs and to proofread.

H. Marchand calls them pseudo-compounds, because they are created as verbs not by the process of composition but by conversion and back-formation. His classification may seem convincing, if the vocabulary is treated diachronically from the viewpoint of those processes that are at theback of its formation. It is quite true that the verb vacuum-clean was not coined by compounding and so is not a compound genetically (on the word-formation level). But if we are concerned with the present-day structure and follow consistently the definition of a compound given in the opening lines of this chapter, we see that it is a word containing two free stems. It functions in the sentence as a separate lexical unit. It seems logical to consider such words as compounds by right of their structural pattern.


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