Thursday, November 22, 2007

a couple of things on the word "Thanksgiving"

First, John McWhorter complains in the New York Sun today that
You know how you can tell that we don't truly think of Thanksgiving as being about thankfulness anymore? Which syllable most of us put the accent on. Most people say thanks-GIVING. But think about it � you don't say horse-RACING; you say HORSE-racing. BABY-sitting, not baby-SITTING. [...]

The accent has changed as our concept of the holiday has. THANKS-giving would convey that we were giving thanks. When we say thanks-GIVING we are just uttering a string of sounds only vaguely connected to what the words thanks and giving mean. It's rather like ice cream: we don't really conceive of the stuff as "iced cream;" in our heads it's more like a single word "eyescream."
and Mark Liberman digs into the corpus and discovers that, long before the holiday and centuries before the 'debasement' McWhorter is complaining about, the word was almost invariably pronounced thankGIVing.
When we look at thanksgiving in ternary meters, the situation is completely different. A quick scan of LION turns up dozens if not hundreds of cases -- I'll spare you most of the 30 or so that I've looked at -- and every one of the examples that I've seen so far has second-syllable ictus.
Weird but true!

Also, PreTeena has Stick going on about the name, in a different vein of complaint:

give thanks or thanks give
happy givethanksing
What makes this such a perfect example of peeveology is that it is absolutely normal in English for the verb to come last in such compounds. Is it skiwatering? racehorsing? fightbulling? readBibling? rigelectioning? sitbabying? stuffballotboxing? editcopying? checkspelling? hitpinching? picknitting? No. So why on Earth should it be givethanksing? Not to mention the ultra-weirdness of the morphology: -ING isn't a suffix that can go on nouns like that; it "should" be "Happy Givingthanks!" (PS - Teena should be saying 'boggleminding', but no matter.)

And with that, I'm off myself for dinner. So to my US readers, Happy Thanksgiving, and to the rest of you, Happy Thursday! (Or Friday, as the case may be...)

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