Friday, August 27, 2010

Slash and cum: coordinators

On p. A15 of today's Toronto Star, we find reported various discoveries: heretofore unidentified sea life and two planets transiting the same star. Another discovery was going on around the same time, but since it's in linguistics, it's almost certain to be entirely ignored by the press. Granted, the discovery has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal, but that would make no difference. You will simply never see a headline like "New English preposition discovered" (except, perhaps, in The Onion).

As reported on Language Log, I recently e-mailed Geoff Pullum asking his opinion about whether slash and cum would qualify as coordinators. He replied saying that he thought they would. This exchange was sparked by a discussion on English Wiktionary. There, the ever vigilant DCDuring suggested that cum seemed more like a conjunction than a preposition and Ruakh replied that he took it to be like slash, which he considers a clear conjunction. The consensus seems to be that, yes, both words are coordinators.

The earliest instance I can find of coordinator slash is from a column in the September 28th, 1992 issue of Time magazine called "Short Takes":
Meet urban planner Campbell Scott (" a realist slash dreamer "), Greenpeacenik Kyra Sedgwick (" This whole decade is going to have to be about cleaning up "), maitre d' Jim True (" I live my life like a French movie ").
The next oldest I can find is from the script for the 1999 movie Mumford:
No, what I've been working on, what the world really needs and no one has been able to create a virtually life-like, humanoid, gender-specific, anatomically functional... sexual surrogate slash companion.
I particularly like Dear God slash Allah slash Buddha slash Zeus - I'm a big fan of covering all your bases from the  2009 short story, “The Perfect Gift,” by Steven Frank.

I haven't been able to find any examples of slash coordinating clauses, though the contrived example from commenter Luis at LL seems fine to me: This is the man that I work with slash compete against.

When it comes to cum, there's certainly less syntactic variation; it seems to be mainly limited to coordinating two NPs, but I was able to find the following example from 1991 which fortuitously exhibits not only multiple coordination, but also coordinated AdjPs.
The religious cum political cum economic nature of these agrarian rituals of early leaders, including the emperors...
This was published in 1991 in Ethnology Vol. 30 Issue 3, p199 in an article entitled "The emperor of Japan as deity (kami)" by Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney.

As far as I can tell, no dictionary lists slash as a coordinator, but Merriam-Webster's does list cum as a conjunction.

[Update: The American Heritage Dictionary does indeed list slash as a conjunction. So, I guess there's no major discovery here. What a letdown!]


Q Higuchi said...

I have often wondered about the phrase "and/or" (as in "criminal and/or juvenile record"): here, the two coodinators are coordinated with a, well, slash.

I think that the tricky part is when you start recognising _slash_ as an independent lexical item, rather than a simple substitute for, or "read aloud" version of, "/". But _slash_ has clearly acquired that status - while I was sleeping, so it seems.

techczech said...

There's an interesting adjectival and nominal use of 'slash' that has developed in the fanfiction subculture that isn't listed in the Heritage dictionary. It appears in phrases like 'slash fiction', 'slash writer' or 'I write mostly slash'. In this case it refers to fiction writing about the imagined homosexual relationship between two characters that are heterosexual in the cannon, e.g. Kirk/Spock, Buffy/Faith/Willow, Harry/Ron, etc. It even has a Wikipedia entry:

Brett said...

Yes, the OED has this sense in its draft additions (May 2003).