I'm thinking about similarly-formed idiomatic constructs like this cluster:

  • 'Put up' - (#1) to allow someone to reside, usually in an ad-hoc temporary manner ('He put up John and I put up Mike; it was just for one night.')
  • 'Put up' - (#2) to reluctantly tolerate ('We put up with the poor fuel consumption, it's a cheap car with the finance deal.')
  • 'Put down' - to kill by euthanasia ('Their pet was put down because she had cancer')
  • 'Put in' - to deploy additional resources/humanpower ('The army put in an extra battalion'; 'the staff put in extra hours to meet the deadline')
  • 'Put out' - to engage sexually ('he/she/they put out')

I'm intrigued about this kind of phenomenon, where a single root + structure has acquired completely independent/unrelated diverse idiomatic meanings when used with similar modifiers. In this example, all five items are grammatically similar and formed as 'To put' + a direction.

The same phrases all continue to have their non-idiomatic meaning as well.

Is there a name for this in language studies? Are there other good examples? How does such variety arise historically?

(Sorry about the inexact title, I don't know a better way to describe the question or even the best tags for it)

  • 1
    Welcome to ELL! Interesting as the question may be, I believe that it's probably more appropriate at Linguistics.SE. Dec 11 '16 at 8:47
  • Can it be moved?
    – Stilez
    Dec 11 '16 at 10:20
  • 1
    To get on with English and get ahead in life, you've got to get 'get' into your vocabulary. Don't get the idea I'm getting at you, but get 'get' and you'll get by. 'Get' is a great get out when you don't get a joke or when you get through to someone who won't get off the phone and you're getting bored; get rid of them with a 'Get lost!', or more politely, 'I've got to get on now. Get together with you again some time, maybe get away for the weekend. Bye!' Get the idea of what I've got to get across to you? Once you get the habit, it goes quite easy - no, really.
    – bytebuster
    Dec 11 '16 at 18:02
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    The phenomenon is called a phrasal verb in English. German has something similar, called "separable prefixes" (trennbare Vorsilben) that make more or less arbitrary semantic changes to the verb (e.g, Gm aufhören 'stop', from auf 'up' + hören 'hear'). English phrasal verbs consist of a verb part and a "particle", and have special syntax in the form of a special rule called "particle shift" which alternates (e.g.) He looked up the word with He looked the word up; look up is a phrasal verb meaning 'find in a list or book'.
    – jlawler
    Dec 11 '16 at 19:37
  • Actually this is fairly common in IE languages in general, just in English the "modifier" is a particle/preposition, while in other IE languages it merged with the verb into a full-blown prefix.
    – Eleshar
    Dec 12 '16 at 22:18

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