Blargh Blog

Friday, November 19, 2004

Mini-break Time

Steven Pinker has argued that when a noun based on an irregular verb (like "fly out") is "backformed" into a verb, it becomes regular (e.g. "flied out"). Yet Google reveals a nascent exception to this rule.

In tennis, "breaking serve" means winning a game that your opponent is serving, while "holding serve" means winning a game on your own serve. During a tiebreaker, the players alternate in serving for 2 points. When someone wins a point on the opponent's serve in a tiebreaker, this is known as a mini-break. What happens when people turn this noun into a verb? It doesn't happen often, but Google turned up these four cases in the past-tense:
In the tie-break, Ajay was “mini-broken” at 1-2 when he missed a high forehand volley with Nisker out of position.

So it was tie-break time: FG served and were mini-broke: 0-1. HT then mini-held, and gave back the mini-break: 0-2, 1-2. FG then did likewise: 2-2, 2-3. HT then gave up a pair of mini-breaks: 3-3, 4-3. FG then mini-held, and gave back a mini-break: 5-3, 5-4. HT then mini-held twice: 5-5, 5-6. FG then fought off set-point and mini-held, but were then mini-broke: 6-6, 6-7. HT, serving for set point, took the set: 6-8. Oh well.....

First up in the shoot-out, she squandered the chance to take the lead, and although she mini-breaked back to stay in touch at 1-2, she lost her next two serves.

The tiebreak was pretty weird, since Guga led easily from the start, and he served at 6-3 and lost both his serves... Then he minibroke Etlis again with a return winner with a backhand crosscourt.
Three of the four instances use irregular forms of "break", though one of them self-consciously, and one also uses "mini-held." I did not find any other uses of any noun or verb form of "mini-hold." (There are a few more uses of "mini-break" as a verb in the present tense, but they are harder to find among all of the noun uses.) The site that is the source of the second quote uses "mini-broke" and "mini-broken" frequently, as does another site that appears to be run by the same person.

So Pinker's rule doesn't seem to hold for the rare people who use "mini-break" as a verb.

UPDATE: Neal compares mini-break with fast-break at Literal-Minded, and I've come up with a hypothesis for why people say fastbreaked but mini-broke.


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