Behind the Dictionary
Lexicographers Talk About Language
In February, the author Gary Schmidt was interviewed by Michele Norris on NPR about his novel entitled OK for Now. Schmidt said this about the book's protagonist:
He has a beat-up situation, a beat-up family, a beat-up house. And he comes to a new town, trying to find a new way to start. But he brings all of his beat-upedness with him.
"Beat-upedness"? Take away the -ness suffix and you're left with ... beat-uped? That's not a word, is it?
To understand the existence of words like beat-upedness, it helps to recognize that English word-formation processes are a bit unsettled when it comes to certain suffixes and phrasal verbs. For example, it gets tricky when you take the suffix -er and put it on a phrasal verb like pick up, put down, or sit around. Before the twentieth century, the most common approach was to put the suffix on the verb: picker up, putter down, sitter around. However, the most common procedures now are to put the suffix on the preposition, or even on both the verb and the preposition. Thus we have both pick-upper and picker upper; put-downer and putter downer; sit-arounder and sitter arounder.
With a word like beat-upedness, the situation is more complicated because we're dealing not only with a phrasal verb and a suffix (-ness), but also with the process of forming a past participle. Past participles can be formed by means of a suffix, such as -ed or -en; or a change in the verb itself, as in sung or caught; or no change in the verb at all, as in run or Gary Schmidt's nonstandard beat instead of beaten.
Usually the verb is what gets participialized, not the preposition. We don't get words like beat-uppen; we get beaten up or beat-up. What's less clear is how to deploy the -ness, which converts adjectives (including those derived from past participles) into nouns. On the one hand, it wants to attach to just the participial adjective, the way it does to give us giftedness, preparedness, and connectedness. By that rationale, we'd expect beatenness up, or beatness up. That's not what we get, though. Those phrases get zero hits on Google, as well as in the Corpus of Contemporary American English.
On the other hand, -ness wants to attach to the entire complex of words that make up the adjective it's operating on; in other words, it wants to go on the rightmost edge. By that rationale, we'd get beaten upness or beat-upness. In fact, we do! A Google web search brings in about 250 hits for spelling and punctuational variants of these two words. The earliest attestation I've found is from a widely quoted passage from literary critic Diana Trilling in 1959, commenting on a student-organized poetry reading by the beat poet Allan Ginsberg at Columbia University. In the spring issue of the Partisan Review, she wrote, with pun probably intended:
And now all at once the thing about Ginsberg and his friends was not their social protest and existentialism, their whackiness and beat-upness: suddenly it had become their energy of poetic impulse that earned them their right to be heard in the university, their studious devotion to their art: Ginsberg was seeing to that.
So it looks like the preference for edge-attachment is the winner when it comes to adjectives derived from past participles of phrasal verbs — in other words, adjectives like beaten up or beat up.
But we still haven't accounted for beat-upedness, with its extra -ed. It's not just one utterance from one author of young adult fiction. A Google web search turns up about 90 hits for spelling and punctuational variants of beat-upedness (and also a handful for beaten-upedness). It's a small number, but certainly larger than the zero hits for beat(en)ness up, and almost half the amount of hits for beat(en) upness. Here are a couple of examples:
I don't care about the smallness of our living space and the beat upedness of our car, and the lack of our ability to buy even a 2BD apt in our neighborhood. (link)
It is an awesome guitar, despite its beat uppedness.... (link)
The earliest hit I've found is from 1945, in the book I Knew Your Soldier, by Eleanor Bumstead Stevenson and Pete Martin:
Sometimes I suspect we even cultivate our beat-uppedness, but we have never forgotten our first lesson which S — taught us at Telergma. (link)
Furthermore, it turns out that this pattern of suffixing -edness to the preposition of a phrasal verb is widespread. In a blog post from 2006, Mark Peters lists dozens of them, including beat-upedness and words such as built-upedness, caught-upedness, fed-upedness, grown-upedness, hung-upedness, knocked-upedness, messed-upedness (as well as a synonym that I won't write out here), psyched-upedness, and washed-upedness. It works for prepositions other than up, too: To choose just a few examples, there is tricked-outedness, clued-innedness, blown-awayedness, and even lived throughedness.
Notice that the -ed suffix doesn't even match the past-participle formation process for built, caught, fed, grown, hung, and blown. There are even examples in which the -ed attaches to the preposition without the verb getting converted to a past participle at all. Peters includes examples such as sex-upedness and wash-upedness. Evidently, this -ed has little to do with how a verb forms its past participle, or even whether you turn it into a past participle at all. The rule seems to be that if you want to participialize an entire phrasal verb — preposition and all — suffixation with -ed is how you do it. If you want to participialize the verb as well, you have that option, and you do it however you would do it ordinarily: built, caught, grown, whatever.
And why exactly would you want to turn an entire phrasal verb into a past participle? Typically, you wouldn't. Although you'll occasionally see sentences like User was loginned instead of User was logged in, that's unusual. You don't get forms like sex-uped and wash-uped standing alone. The most likely reason to produce them is to have something that sounds more adjective-like for a suffix like -ness to attach to. At least, that's the explanation offered by linguist Bert Cappelle, near the end of a paper whose main focus is on nouns like picker upper. Ending with an -edness, adjectives like beat-upedness resonate phonetically with all those -edness adjectives like literal-mindedness.
Not only is beat-upedness only one member of a family of adjectives; this family goes back to at least the 1850s. The Oxford English Dictionary documents knock-upedness from 1855, although the phrasal verb knock up had a different meaning from both the modern American English one of "pregnant" and the modern British English one of "roused from sleep"; it simply meant "weak." Their citation:
I am very sorry indeed to hear of your knockupedness but I warned you about that window.
A search in Google Books for various prepositions followed by "edness" pulls up several other family members, some of which are still in use today:
- 1859 stuck upedness
- 1862 wetted throughedness
- 1865 used upedness
- 1866 worn outedness
- 1887 pick upedness
- 1890 thought outedness
- 1896 stuffed upedness
- 1899 puffed upedness
- 1907 grown upedness
- 1919 fed upedness
Finally, it turns out that -ed can even make a compound adjective ready for a -ness suffix when a verb was never in the picture. The compound adjective hard up has been fitted with an -ed before a -ness since at least 1875, and is still in use, in sentences like this one:
Meanwhile, she can barely conceal her hard-upedness. (link)
Learning all this has been quite an ed-ucation for me on how to really -ness things up.