At a scenic dropoff near the Lounge, whereunder flows the mighty torrent of English, we have lookouts posted whose job is to spot trends. Recently they have reported back on instances of a certain class of words that are ready for a closeup: a handful of nouns formed by fusing the two parts of a phrasal verb. Such words are legion in English (setback, breakdown, frameup, washout, etc.) but we lack a handy term to designate them: snaptos? pairups? glueons? In any case, this month's Lounge is a rundown of our lookouts' pickups.

Have you watched the Food Network program called "Throwdown with Bobby Flay"? Unaccountably, our imagination did not supply the connection at first. What's a throwdown?  The word is all over English today, but not always with the same meaning, and a survey of Google News hits wasn't immediately illuminating. We typed it into the search box in the CD version of Random House Unabridged (our fave CD-ROM dictionary). It's not there as a headword but it took us immediately to "throw down the gauntlet." Of course! A challenge. The program, for those who haven't watched it, involves the good-natured celebrity chef turning up in some off-the-beaten-path locale where he cooks his version of a local specialty alongside a local chef. Expert judges then decide which of the two is better. Throwdown is a great choice for the program title: it is not centuries old and somewhat tired, like challenge, it's inspired by a phrase intimately tied to its meaning, and it joins many other phrasal compounds ending with ­down in which there's an implied lopsided or negative outcome: oldtimers knockdown and shakedown, 20th-century entries lockdown and meltdown, and relative newcomers smackdown and beatdown.

Another thing we've noticed lately is the huge amount of pushback going on — and we don't mean the kind that happens after the jet bridge is retracted from the aircraft door. These days pushback seems to be what you do when you don't like what's just been done to you, or, as the OED has it in its 2007 draft entry,

  1. orig. and chiefly U.S. Resistance, disagreement; adverse reaction, negative feedback.

It's an interestingly late addition to English in this meaning, considering that pullback has been around since the 17th century; the sort of pushback noted above wasn't so designated until the late 20th century, and only now seems to be really running on its legs, especially in Washington, as these journalism instances show:

Nationwide protests known as "tea parties" are the result of pushback against Democrats' spending.
It didn't take long for Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski's Internet neutrality roadmap to elicit pushback.
Pushback against the steady hollowing out of proposed [healthcare] reforms has been building.

Again, it's an very apt coinage: it's what you expect to happen if you place a dish of chopped spinach in front of a diner in a high chair, and it's a little surprising that the term did not catch on centuries ago. It shares a quality with many ________back compounds that, like their phrasal verb parents, suggest interaction between two sides: the long-established feedback and payback, or 20th-centry entries buyback and clawback, to name a few.

When pushback doesn't work and the originator of the action carries out his or her original intention, watch out for blowback. The term was originally (late 19th century) associated with firearms, boilers, and internal combustion engines, and it retains its explosive connotations today in extended use:

Gibbs dismissed a suggestion that Obama risked blowback by meddling in local affairs.
Even if they decide not to release [the Madoff report], the blowback will be so intense that they'll change their mind.
There will be some blowback directed at the Vick signing.

The OED's 2006 draft entry sums it up thus:

  1. (chiefly U.S.) the adverse consequences of a (political) situation or action.

While the word has been with us for some time, its usage is trending upwards — or so say Google News statistics, anyway:

The apparent spike in 2001 seems to be due to pundit jabber about Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, by Chalmers Johnson (published in 2000), with some additional fuel supplied various characterizations of 9/11 and its aftermath. Does blowback really mean anything different from backlash? Probably not: as the VT has it, backlash is "an adverse reaction to some political or social occurrence." It's likely that blowback is simply encroaching on some of backlash's semantic space, wielding its novelty sword as it goes.

Lately we also hear a lot about buildout — a term so fresh that even the OED doesn't seem to have put together a knockup of it yet. It appears with some frequency in journalism, especially when the subject is broadband technology or construction:

  elements to watch right now is broadband  buildout  . It 's slowing . And if you don't  have
  billion in third-generation , or 3G , network  buildout  costs ) has added so much debt to the  balance
  of the future automobile depends on the  buildout  of a fully functional , wide-area  network
  the benefits of the massive infrastructure  buildout  of the past five years .  </p><p> Like many
  money which was crucial to finance network  buildout  and handset development . These  companies
  network , even claiming in August that the  buildout  would be completed by 2003 . But that  was
  says . " We were actively involved in the  buildout  all summer long . "  </p><p> If the government
  these telecoms can't pull off the rapid  buildout  in wireless Web phone systems Nokia  expected
  possibilities of fiber optics , and a rapid  buildout  of the Internet . When tech spending  in
  access to branches that are vital to the  buildout  of its retail business . " The  bank is
  Construction Corp. will handle the $ 120,000  buildout  . Trek also was chosen to renovate 1,  440
  Margaret St. It 's a 2,970 - square-foot  buildout  . </p><p> Leader 's advice  sure smells good
  </p><p> RETAIL ROUNDUP : The city  approved  buildout  for Beall 's Department Stores Inc. in
  security programs ? Have tasks including the  buildout  of risk assessment plans been assigned
  is going on ) landlord 's contribution to  buildout  length of the lease  </p><p> For the purpose 
  downtown  urban mixed use center , that at    buildout    will feature a regional retail center ,
  twice that of affluent adults . " That the  buildout  of the house of Kilgore should  eventually
  </p><p> Ninety-five per cent of this  final  buildout  of humanity will occur in the urban  areas
  decades . </p><p> " If the  infrastructure  buildout  provides the actual hardware , then  the
  use development with an eight to 12 - year  buildout  . </p><p> By contrast ,  civilian brownfields
  the base population , setting in motion a  buildout  that NATO had never seen before , and  one
  approach advanced design and facilities  buildout  simultaneously . The concomitant  scheduling
  Price said he renovations will include a buildout of the lobby, the hallways and the  seventh floor, an 
  anticipation that with the international buildout of infrastructure for electric vehicles  will produce 

Will this pairup make it into the big tent? Perhaps not as readily as the others have done; it still has a jargony feel, and the underlying phrasal verb, build out, is also a niche English inhabitant, not treated in any standard dictionaries at present. Thumbnail definition of the noun: the implementation or completion of a detailed plan of construction.

The last starlet in this month's identity parade is mashup. It's been around English for quite a while, but dictionaries have not generally taken note of it — perhaps understandably so, as it is often a nonce word and fairly transparent in use: a noun-of-instance of the underlying phrasal verb that follows the pattern of many such _____ up compounds (hookup, breakup, lookup, sendup, etc.). Lately mashup is settling into a couple of particular uses. One of them involves software: Wikipedia says a mashup is "a Web application that combines data or functionality from two or more sources into a single integrated application." Mashup's other new job is in music, as this 2009 OED draft explains, somewhat wordily:

  1. A fusion of disparate musical elements. Now usually: a piece of popular music created by merging the elements of two or more existing songs using computer technology and production techniques, esp. one featuring the vocals of one song over the instrumental backing of another.

This use of mashup seems to have grown out of hip-hop culture, and perhaps appropriately so: we looked at early instances of the phrasal verb mash up on one of the Making of America websites, which survey early American literature, and found, surprisingly, that several of the earliest uses of the verb are from transcribed African-American speech. Proof, perhaps, that the genius and ingenuity of English still thrives, managing to find the right term for the right semantic slot and dropping it in when the need arises.


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Orin Hargraves is an independent lexicographer and contributor to numerous dictionaries published in the US, the UK, and Europe. He is also the author of Mighty Fine Words and Smashing Expressions (Oxford), the definitive guide to British and American differences, and Slang Rules! (Merriam-Webster), a practical guide for English learners. In addition to writing the Language Lounge column, Orin also writes for the Macmillan Dictionary Blog. Click here to visit his website. Click here to read more articles by Orin Hargraves.

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Comments from our users:

Monday November 2nd 2009, 4:56 AM
Comment by: peter S.
I thoroughly enjoy the column. But it is sad and disappointing that a piece of highly literate content is released in sloppy style, lacking editing; witness

"These days pushback seems to be what you do when do don't like what's just been done to you..." and
"... place a dish of chopped spinach in front a diner in a high chair..."

as two examples.

[Fixed! —Ed.]
Monday November 2nd 2009, 7:13 AM
Comment by: Arnold Z. (Palo Alto, CA)
A name for these things? Why not mashup? It's an instance of the phenomenon, and its meaning is in the right ballpark.
Monday November 2nd 2009, 7:25 AM
Comment by: Arnold Z. (Palo Alto, CA)
To Peter S.: instead of just complaining about typos in a comment, it would have been more helpful for you to e-mail them to the writer (his address -- okh@orinhargraves.com -- is available on his website). That would be no more trouble for you than writing a comment, and would have allowed him to silently make corrections in the posting, without the comments section piling up with metacommentary (your comment, and now this one of mine -- which I would have sent directly to you if I'd had your e-mail address). But maybe you just wanted to publicly slap Hargraves around for his typos.
Monday November 2nd 2009, 7:29 AM
Comment by: carlos C. (miami, FL)
thanks for the grat learning you provide me I follow over and over and I never rest
Monday November 2nd 2009, 8:01 AM
Comment by: Scott R. (Amherst, MA)
I thought throwdown derived from wrestling where you pick up your opponent over your head and throw him/her down on the canvas.

[For more on "throwdown," from wrestling to hip-hop, see the Word Routes column Of Showdowns, Throwdowns, and Hoedowns." —Ed]
Monday November 2nd 2009, 8:28 AM
Comment by: Orin Hargraves (CO)Visual Thesaurus Contributor
Another of these that has come to my attention since I sent in the (ruefully uncopyedited) piece in is walkaway. Two meanings:
1) Person escaping a situation where restraints are so lax that running away is not necessary, e.g., a walkaway from a residential drug treatment facility.
2) A property in limbo because a bank has begun foreclosure on it but then not completed it (i.e., walked away from it). Usage is mainly attrib for this one, but I think it wants to be a noun. From the Cleveland Plain Dealer a couple of days ago: "The walkaway is a pernicious practice wherein a bank, after getting a foreclosure decree in court, neither takes title to the property nor takes it to sheriff's sale."
The only sense of walkaway currently defined in most dictys is the “easy victory” sense, though RHUD, to its credit, has something close to 1).
Metacommentary: thanks, Arnold. Inbox not flooded so far.
Monday November 2nd 2009, 8:31 AM
Comment by: Alexander B. (Woking, Surrey United Kingdom)
I liked the article because giving examples of these creative use of words has utility. It would be interesting to have a friendly competition whereby we come up with these words or at least create some forum we can experiment with them.
Monday November 2nd 2009, 9:04 AM
Comment by: Sandy F. (Tucson, AZ)
Always enjoy the accompanying articles w/the daily 'word'; and expand my vocab as well as knowledge base, which is enjoyable and hopefully staves off the possible dementia we all fear! The 'pettiness' is just that - and I try to ignore those commenting.... This is a great site and 'community' for our personal growth and development as well as shared/vicarious knowledge enhancement.
Monday November 2nd 2009, 9:18 AM
Comment by: LeanneF (Winnipeg Canada)
I love this well-articulated study that brings together the old and the new. As Sandy shares, the VT word articles always provide an opportunity to expand our vocabularies -- a challenge indeed when we're encouraged to use letters/abbreviations instead of words to communicate in many of our 'other' communities.
Monday November 2nd 2009, 9:30 AM
Comment by: Joseph M. G.
1. Such terms and the study of such terms should be called "siamics," after the famous 19th-century Siamese conjoined twins, Chang and Eng Bunker.

2. I disagree with Arnold Z. of Palo Alto, California. While a private word to the author of the poor copy would certainly have brought about a correction, I think it's important to make the criticism public so that the web site's editor is made aware of the problem. As a result, both contributors and editors will be that much more thorough when vetting copy prior to publishing.

3. To paraphrase Kissinger, comments are vicious because the stakes are so low.
Monday November 2nd 2009, 10:24 AM
Comment by: mike H. (san diego, CA)
I was surprised that buildout was considered new. I encountered it over 20 years ago. It was used by land developers. They would talk about the buildout of the individual phases until the land was completely builtout.

I find it odd to think, Kansas land developers were ahead of the world in the usage. My guess is that it started in the west US and moved east.

Mike
Monday November 2nd 2009, 10:29 AM
Comment by: Randall M.
"Mashup" seems way too trendy. Why not simply say "admixture"? Many of these freshly coined words and phrases seem to be a reach, an attempt to invent some "modern" slang to impress others wih one's "with it" jargon.
I am unimpressed! I've spent 65 years building a broad and cogent vocabulary of useful and descriptive words that suit the purpose. However, I guess that I am "swimming against the tide".
Monday November 2nd 2009, 10:30 AM
Comment by: Terry Lynn D. (Minneapolis, MN)
I'd like to push a little suggestion your way regarding the "blank" - back in this excerpt- how about using the word "sticky" or "razor"? There are distinct interactions indicated there, don't you think?

"Again, it's an very apt coinage: it's what you expect to happen if you place a dish of chopped spinach in front of a diner in a high chair, and it's a little surprising that the term did not catch on centuries ago. It shares a quality with many ________back compounds that, like their phrasal verb parents, suggest interaction between two sides: the long-established feedback and payback, or 20th-century entries buyback and clawback, to name a few."
Monday November 2nd 2009, 10:39 AM
Comment by: Jordan M. (Newburgh, IN)
I find it interesting to note that the words in question are always a combination of a verb and a preposition. Maybe the name can reflect that somehow. Perhaps a verbosition or a preverb. That might be too confusing as the words themselves are actually nouns. Just a thought.
Monday November 2nd 2009, 10:48 AM
Comment by: Walter R. (West Sayville, NY)
I read with much amusement the use of the creative combinations that some people find necessary to express themselves. Are they trying to be unique, I wonder? Or is it that they don't know enough standard English vocabulary? The combinations always seem to be composed of two very common, simple words that in almost every instance can be expressed by using words that already exist. Thankfully most of them will disappear in a short time, as have so many other slang terms (with which I personally classify these inventions).
Monday November 2nd 2009, 11:04 AM
Comment by: Karl S. (Peoria, IL)
In marketing, "leave-behind" has become a noun -- as in "The sales kit includes a brochure for the rep to use as a leave-behind." Not sure about the hyphen; I've never seen the term in print.
Monday November 2nd 2009, 12:10 PM
Comment by: Jordan M. (Newburgh, IN)
There is also the term knockdown fitting (sometimes referred to as a ready-to-assemble fitting) used in cabinetry. They are those cylinders and pins that you get when you buy self assembly furniture (like a bookshelf from Wal-mart).
Monday November 2nd 2009, 1:26 PM
Comment by: Russell M. B. (Toronto Canada)
The comment about the "leave-behind" reminds me of the suddenly much overused "takeaway"--meaning the point to be gleaned from the book, film, or experience.
Monday November 2nd 2009, 2:04 PM
Comment by: jan C. (des moines, IA)
and there is dragout - as in knockdown, dragout fight...
Monday November 2nd 2009, 2:12 PM
Comment by: Saul G.
Isn't a "throwdown" applied also to a weapon carried by law enforcement personnel, and used, at least in works of fiction, for purposes of making it appear that the weapon belonged to the alleged perpetrator of a crime, typically one who is deceased?
Monday November 2nd 2009, 2:43 PM
Comment by: Jordan M. (Newburgh, IN)
Can anyone think of a mashup (for lack of a better term) that doesn't fit the verb preposition pattern?
Monday November 2nd 2009, 4:30 PM
Comment by: Roger Dee (Haslett, MI)Top 10 Commenter
I thought you might mention a recently appropriated word for the "____up" set:
"Hookup" as a noun depicting a specific aberrant sexual liaison. I noticed this word when reading "I Am Charlotte Simmons" by Thomas Wolff recently and in several New Yorker Magazine articles.
Isn't this word a new example of a phrasal verb fusion? To me, its meaning is specific. It also reflects a small segment of a changing social culture accepted by many in generation-X, -Y, or Z.
Monday November 2nd 2009, 5:02 PM
Comment by: caroline B. (New York, NY)
I first encountered 'buildout'almost 20 years ago in the commercial real estate market.
The landlord offers to 'front' the 'buildout' cost of an avialable space and then add that to the rent - on a sufficiently long-term lease. Similarly, if the space has already been built out (by the former tenant for example) and the prospective leasee accepts it as is, the rent is lowered propotionately by the landlord because he then does not have to do a new 'buildout.'
Monday November 2nd 2009, 5:04 PM
Comment by: charles F.
Let's not forget mashable.
Monday November 2nd 2009, 9:22 PM
Comment by: Ellen M.
How about calling them "snap-ons" (like the tool company, not to be confused with "strap-ons")?

I think "mash-ups" should stay digital and artistic (Pride & Prejudice with Zombies was widely described as a "literary mash-up")and not drift out to encompass the whole class.

And "walkaways" goes back at least to the '80s, when I heard (and used) it in real estate banking, but with a different definition; referring to defaulting mortgage holders who just walked away from their houses, often sticking the keys in the mail back to the bank holding the mortgage.
Tuesday November 3rd 2009, 9:11 AM
Comment by: Orin Hargraves (CO)Visual Thesaurus Contributor
Jordan M: I think many of these would in fact be classified as verb + adv, but most of the particles double as prepositions. I can't think of a compound of this type where the particle is an adverb but not also a preposition. There are a few backwards combinations, however: uptake, outreach, etc.
Randall M: I expect what you say about many of these new coinages was said about most of the now long-established compounds when they first appeared: the newness wears off very soon, and the words enter the mainstream of English. I don't think the intention is to impress; words appear when there is a need for them, often because near synonyms don't do the job required.
All: thanks for many interesting comments.
Wednesday November 4th 2009, 10:51 AM
Comment by: Cynthia W. (Bagdad, KY)
Help requested from Orin and commenters. I need a word to describe an individual who is susceptible to change efforts - or "impactable."

Impactable is an awful word - anything, including a mashup, that would convey the concept
Thursday November 5th 2009, 10:29 AM
Comment by: Pauline S. (Indianapolis, IN)
wordup
Friday November 6th 2009, 12:28 PM
Comment by: Kevin D. (Saint Lucie West, FL)
I'm a new subscriber to this web site, however, I have to say that I like this open forum format. I find this has some educational value, albeit some comments are downright antagonistic. A challenge of sorts against some perceived opponent. Personally, I never know when I should employ the hyphen in these throwdown situations. I must say I agree with the author, these colloquial phrases, once considered gibberish, become jargon and eventually over time likely become more accepted as mainstream language. Perhaps someone has a similar opinion.

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