Friendlies and previouslies

During the weeks leading up to the FIFA World Cup, the various national teams — whether or not they have qualified for the Cup — play against one another in matches that are known as friendlies. A friendly (short for ‘friendly match’) is the equivalent of what in North American sports is called an exhibition game, that is, one that is not played as part of a competition.

While friendly as an adjective goes back to Old English, the OED dates its first appearance as a noun (pluralized, as a matter of fact) to 1885. In English — unlike many other languages, European and other — an adjective cannot be automatically be turned into a noun. It is usually done by ellipsis: in a noun phrase made up of an adjective and a noun, after some time the noun is dropped. While past appears as an adjective around 1300, it didn’t become a noun (meaning ‘past time’ or ‘past tense’) till after 1500 (preterit was used before that, alongside present and future — these were already nouns in French before being borrowed into English). Temporary can be short for ‘temporary worker’ or ‘temporary crown’ (in dentistry). Danish means ‘Danish pastry.”

Glossonyms (names of languages) may also be thought of as belonging to this category, with “English” short for “English language (or tongue),” but many glossonyms of this type (English, French, Welsh, Danish) go back to Old English, so that the ellipsis is not a conscious one.

Then there are certain ethnic or “racial” designation: black, white, Hispanic… One does not usually say “a black” or “a white,” but “a Hispanic” is not uncommon, and they are pluralized as nouns (blacks, whites, Hispanics). Other ethnonyms (by which I mean not only ethnic but also national, regional or continental designations) may function as both nouns and adjectives, especially those ending in -an (American, German, Italian, Mexican, Asian…), but these are based on the Latin -anus (-ana, etc.) and the nominalization of the adjective already took place in Latin, where it is the norm. Ethnonyms without special endings (such as Greek, Navaho, Yoruba) usually serve as both nouns and adjectives, but here the noun came first, and in English it’s the adjectivization of nouns that is the norm.

Other than such elliptical transformations, an adjective (invariably preceded by the) can be used as a plural noun denoting the class of people characterized by it: the Chinese, the English and the Irish; the rich and powerful against the poor and powerless; The Beautiful and Damned, The Naked and the Dead

The fact that in other languages adjectives can be freely used as nouns can be confusing to translators. In García Márquez’ Cien años de soledad there appears a character, based on a real person, called El sabio catalán. Here both sabio and catalán can be either adjectives and nouns, but the intent is for the former to be a noun meaning ‘scholar’ or ‘learned man’ and the latter to be an adjective meaning ‘Catalan’ or ‘Catalonian’ (from Catalonia). But the hapless translator, Gregory Rabassa, translated it as the wise Catalonian. While the prototype, Ramon Vinyes, was known to be a literary scholar, there is no record of any special wisdom on his part. (This is only one of Rabassa’s many gaffes.)

So much for adjectives. Rarer still is the nominalization of adverbs. There are, of course, yesterdays and tomorrows (both quite old), but not many others.

I have recently found the need to nominalize the adverb previously. By this I mean a segment of a multi-episode television show, coming before the current episode, in which the preceding action is summarized by combining clips from a previous episode (or episodes). Invariably one reads the legend — or hears an announcer saying — “previously on [name of show]”. If there is a name for this kind of segment (the converse of a trailer, as it were), I don’t know it. So I have taken to calling it a previously. “They’re showing the previously!” I might say to my wife. And of course she knows what I mean.



One Response to “Friendlies and previouslies”

  1. Irreal Madrid | Coby Lubliner's Blog Says:

    […] in Spanish. But when I went yesterday to the California Memorial Stadium in Berkeley to see a friendly between Real Madrid and Inter Milan, I did not see the real Real Madrid. Here is a news item, dated […]

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