04 November 2007

as winter approaches...

it can be dangerous when you gather together a bunch of linguists, give them alcohol, and sit them down around a bonfire. or it can be a lot of fun, but you might get some strange conversations. one such conversation that happened last night was an argument about the possible lexical categories of the word blizzard. i have, as far as i can remember, always used it as both a noun and a verb. other people, some of whom are from regions where blizzards are common enough occurrences, maintained that they couldn't ever use it as a verb.

we'd already had a conversation earlier in the night about how Google is a great quick-and-dirty corpus tool, so i combined the two discussions to find the following results:

wordlex. cat.# hits

the noun form obviously is dominant, but the verbal forms are also attested pretty well. although Google's sorting of results is a definite bias, in the first few pages there are more uses of blizzard to refer to things that are not snowstorms (including the video game company, the Dairy Queen ice cream concoction, and a minor league sports team or two), but i'm fairly confident that in less popular results the prevalent meaning refers to the weather.

next i turned to the OED to see whether it has an entry for blizzard as a verb. they only give a past participle, which i thought was a bit strange. i can equally well say both:

it blizzarded twice in Cleveland last year
it's blizzarding outside now

like other weather verbs in English, i cannot use a simple present form of the verb, but only the frequentative

it blizzards/snows every winter here
*it blizzards/snows outside now

the only thing that puzzled me more than the OED's inclusion of only the past participle is their lone example of it, which has nothing to do with weather phenomena:
1892 GUNTER Miss Dividends I. vi. 67 Then he suddenly ejaculates ‘Well I'm blizzarded!’
therefore i have to return to my own intuitions to figure out anything more about the verbhood of blizzard. as far as i can tell, i use it in the exact same distribution that i use storm, as both noun and verb. this makes sense, since blizzard is semantically a subset of storm. there is, however, one blizzard-like phenomenon (note i don't say blizzardly, despite the fact that the OED attests it, but only with examples from the 19th century) which is strictly a noun in my mental lexicon: white-out. it falls in the same category as fog, not storm. the difference to me is that a storm or blizzard is a process, whereas a white-out or fog is a state. therefore it fogged, is fogging, is whiting-out, is white-outing, whited-out, or white-outed are all awful to me. i don't know if anyone wants to disagree with me on any of those points.

i think that's all i have to say about blizzarding for now, other than the fact that i hope it doesn't snow for at least a few more weeks.

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