I just got back from the American Association for Corpus Linguistics conference in Ames, Iowa, and I’m calling the Word of the Year: for 2016 it will be said.
hoseok literally did a one handed backflip and all people are talking about is the flash of his abs at the end of said backflip i'm tired
— ? (@hoseokdetails) September 25, 2016
You may think you know said. It’s the past participle of say. You’ve said it yourself many times. What’s so special about it?
What’s special was revealed by Jordan Smith, a graduate student at Iowa State, in his presentation on Saturday afternoon. said is becoming a determiner. It is grammaticizing.
In addition to its participial use (“once the words were said”) you’ve probably seen said used as an attributive adjective (“the said property”). It indicates that the noun it modifies refers to a person, place or thing that has been mentioned recently, with the same noun, and that the speaker/writer expects it to be active in the hearer/reader’s memory.
on the said Property on the understanding that they (the Southern Baptist Convention) will pay the sum of One Shilling annually as rent. /8
— Mpa Ugoeze (@Uzochi_O) June 27, 2016
Attributive said is strongly associated with legal documents, as in its first recorded use in the English Parliament in 1327. The Oxford English Dictionary reports that said was used outside of legal contexts as early as 1973, in the English sitcom Steptoe and Son. In this context it was clearly a joke: a word that evoked law courts used in a lower-class colloquial context.
Jordan Smith examined uses of said in the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) and found that attributive said has increasingly been used without the for several years now, and outside the legal domain. He observes that syntactic changes and increased frequency have been named by linguists like Joan Bybee as harbingers of grammaticization.
Grammaticization (also known as grammaticalization; search for both) is when an ordinary lexical item (like a noun, verb or adjective, or even a phrase) becomes a grammatical item (like a pronoun, preposition or auxiliary verb). For example, while is a noun meaning a period of time, but it was grammaticized to a conjunction indicating simultaneity. Used is an adjective meaning accustomed, as in “I was used to being lonely,” but has also become part of an auxiliary indicating habitual aspect as in “I used to be lonely.”
Jordan is suggesting that said is no longer just a verb or even an adjective, it’s our newest determiner in English. Determiners are an exclusive club of short words that modify nouns. They include articles like an and the, but also demonstratives like these and quantifiers like several.
Noun phrases without a determiner tend to refer to generic categories, as I have been doing with phrases like legal documents and grammaticization. That is clearly not what is going on with said girlfriend. Noun phrases with said refer to a specific item or group of items, in some sense even more so than noun phrases with the.
Thanks to the wireless Internet at the AACL, I began searching for of said on Twitter, and found a ton of examples. There are plenty for in said examples as well.
i saw my future husband in a halloween store yesterday but then i lost him in said halloween store :(
— tra$hpanda (@rinicolex) October 2, 2016
It’s not just happening in English. The analogous French ledit is also used outside the legal domain. Its reanalysis is a bit different, since it incorporates the article rather than replacing it. Like most noun modifiers in French it is inflected for gender and number. I haven’t found anything similar for Spanish.
Donc après nous avoir fait changer de voie pour le train suivant, la sncf fait en sorte que ledit train soit en retard.
— Angélique ? (@xTruelove_way) September 22, 2016
In 2013 the American Dialect Society chose because as its Word of the Year. Because is already a conjunction, having grammaticized from the noun cause, but it has been reanalyzed again into a preposition, as in because science. Some theorists consider this to be a further step in grammaticization. And here is a twenty-first century prepositional phrase for you, folks: because (P) said (Det) relationship (N).
I let myself develop bad habits because said relationship. Now I just have to have some serious discipline to get back to where I want to be
— ?? (@fagmiester) September 15, 2016
After Jordan’s presentation it struck me that said is an excellent candidate for the 2016 Word of the year. And if the ADS isn’t interested, maybe another organization like the International Cognitive Linguistics Association, can sponsor a Grammaticization of the Year.