Saturday, April 30, 2011

So ballsy!

One of our clever young linguistics majors, Colin Williams, asked me about the word "ballsy" the other day. He wondered if it wasn't in violation of the "inflection outside of derivation" mantra. It sure looks like a plural "-s" inside a derivational (N -> A) "-y" (cf. "hand/handy"). My tired old brain has been working overtime thinking about this. Somehow I want to say, no, no, no, there's a derivational suffix "-sy". But is there? I've come up with a (short) list of others like it: folksy, artsy, bluesy, gutsy, newsy, outdoorsy, sudsy... (I decided that "footsy" doesn't count because it's a noun.) It sure looks like the plural "s" on all of those. Especially "blues," "news," and "suds" - which don't occur without their "s" (in the same meaning). "Folksy" is a little weird, because the people referred to would usually be the folk rather than the folks. But for the rest: the arts, the blues, guts, the news, the outdoors, and suds - well, they do usually have their plural "-s" on them. Whaddya think?


Anonymous said...

Don't forget "handsy," as in, "You were a little too handsy with my wife," meaning, "You put your hands all over my wife."

Chris Bogart said...

If "blues" doesn't occur without its "s", then how is it a plural? In every one of your cases, removing the "s" results in a word that I don't think of as the singular of the original. So IMO these are not plural inflections, although some of them evolved from plurals historically.

Monica said...

I was taking them as pluralia tantum, which I hasten to add might be wrong. So like "scissors" & "pants" - there's an obvious reason why we would treat them as plural (2 blades, 2 legs). But yeah, we can push the question a bit farther back and say, if that -s is separate from the -y, is that really the plural -s?

(Does plural ever just function to make something a mass N? That seems more like what's going on with the -s in "news," "blues," "suds"...???)

Elliott said...

i think they've become lexicalized. your guts, the arts, the outdoors, and so on. we can peer into the morphology at this moment, but further on it may become more opaque. so, no, it's not a new -sy morpheme , i dont think. the -s is just becoming part of the lexical representation, and then just the regular old -y quality modifier morpheme.

Ellen K. said...

I think they are non-count nouns that derive from plural nouns. Well, except outdoors derives from an adjective.

Some of them would even take a singular noun. Blues is my favorite type of music. The outdoors is a great place to spend a nice day. The news is bad today.

David Craig said...

Folksy: I would use folks to refer to my close relatives but also in the phrase "just plain folks". We have folky but that would, I think, be limited to the sort of culture centered around '60s type folk music revival.

We have "the arts" as a general term. You might say that sculpture was an art or music or painting was an art. When you're referring to the whole conglomerate it's the arts. But we also have the word arty and I don't think its meaning is all that different from artsy.

The blues is a genre. We have different kinds, but unlike the arts the individual examples, Chicago Blues, Kansas City Blues, Delta Blues, et al, are still blues, not a blue.

Gutsy, newsy, and sudsy, as has already been pointed out don't really have -s less forms. Well, there is gut but that doesn't have the metaphorical meaning of guts.

I think I would classify balls with scissors and pants. They normally travel in pairs.

Laurelin said...

I second David.

Folks (n) cannot be the plural of Folk (adj), and so /-s/ is in that case derivational.
Arts (n) does not refer to many or much Art, and so is also derivational
Blues (n) is not the plural of blue (n) ® Derivational
Same with gut/guts, new/news, and outdoor/outdoors.
Suds appears to be a mass noun for which there is no singular, so /-s/ cannot be a plural morpheme.

Since none of these morphemes are inflectional in the first place, addition of a /-y/ does not violate the “inflection outside of derivation” rule. The /-s/ here does not appear to be a plural marker functionally, though it does have the same phonological realization.

The two exceptions are balls and hands, both of which generally occur in pairs. However, unlike trousers and scissors, the singular forms ball and hand are perfectly grammatical.

Is it possible that the affix /-y/ retrospectively lexicalizes balls and hands?

Ellen K. said...

Oops... I meant some of them would even take a singular verb.