Bearing the Brunt of ... the Havoc


(extract from A. Michiels and N.Dufour, defi, a Tool for Automatic Multi-Word Unit Recognition, Meaning Assignment and Translation Selection)

 

 

Looking for multi-word units containing brunt in Defidic (i.e., in two mid-size general language dictionaries), one comes up with the following results:

 

the brunt

to take the brunt of

to bear the brunt of

to bear the brunt of the assault

to bear the brunt of the expense

to bear the brunt of the work

 

Apart from the stand-alone np the brunt, idioms containing brunt would thus seem to conform to the following pattern:

 

bear

take

the

brunt

of

 

A random extraction of about 80 instances of brunt from the BNC, however, shows the need to extend it to the following:

 

bear

take

carry

catch

feel

face

the

a

main

full

heaviest

real

considerable

brunt

of

 

Bear and take are the most frequent verbs, but they are clearly semantically depleted and can be replaced at will by any verb meaning 'face', 'be confronted with'. Similarly, although the brunt could be expected to be a frozen entity, it is subject to seemingly endless manipulations —the determiner was dropped in a newspaper headline, a case local grammar writers can hardly afford to take into account. The prepositional phrase coming after brunt is very often dropped, and the whole idiom is frequently passivized: these are all modifications that are not recorded as such in the dictionary, and that could not be dealt with if the dictionary MWUs were forced into the straitjacket of a local grammar. Note moreover that brunt does not appear as a single word in the dictionary, so that the matcher must be able to make one of the MWUs match whatever textual chunk it has to face. In this case the 'mock MWU' the brunt will match any instance of brunt, because the matcher has a grammar rule according to which any determiner matches any determiner, including zero —a heresy to proponents of local grammars, although such  laxness has thus far not been shown to provoke noise.

 

The defi matcher readily deals with all manipulations and/or additions of adjectives and determiners, since they are all allowed by its internal grammar, as is the omission of the preposition (in this case of) found at the end of dictionary MWUs. A sentence featuring catch the brunt will return to take the brunt of, since both catch and take belong to the matcher's lists of semantically depleted verbs (together with get, put, set, come...) It cannot however tackle the substitution of bear or take by carry/feel/face, since none of them belongs to these lists, and will return only the brunt in such cases. Another —and more serious— weakness is its inability to deal with passivization or topicalization: the matcher compares dictionary MWUs with the textual chunk from left to right only, and is not yet able to identify superficial structure changes as such. Here are a few examples of raw results (the first number is the preference score), with brunt as selected word:

 

1.Walter Zenga in goal, Franco Baresi the libero, and Gianluca Vialli in attack, will carry the brunt of the responsibility today .

127- the brunt = le (plus gros du) choc

123- the brunt = le poids

 

2.The doctor took the full brunt of Moran's resentment .

260- to take the brunt of = être le plus touché par

260- to take the brunt of = subir le plus fort de

260- to take the brunt of = subir tout le poids de

153- the brunt = le poids

123- the brunt = le (plus gros du) choc

 

3...forced on us here in London , who will certainly bear the brunt .

209- to bear the brunt of = être le plus touché par

209- to bear the brunt of = subir le plus fort de

209- to bear the brunt of = subir tout le poids de

123- the brunt = le (plus gros du) choc

123- the brunt = le poids

 

4.and that the real brunt of the war was being borne by the men on the battlefield .

131- the brunt = le (plus gros du) choc

127- the brunt = le poids

 

5.Sussex bore a considerable brunt of the next stage of the Conquest and was the first area to be systematically "Normanised" .

221 - to bear the brunt of = être le plus touché par

221- to bear the brunt of = subir le plus fort de

221- to bear the brunt of = subir tout le poids de

87- the brunt = le (plus gros du) choc

87- the brunt = le poids

 

6.The Prince has a fierce temper, which Colborne often caught the brunt of .

198- to take the brunt of = être le plus touché par

198- to take the brunt of = subir le plus fort de

198- to take the brunt of = subir tout le poids de

123- the brunt = le (plus gros du) choc

123- the brunt = le poids

 

7.He commanded the only Indian Parachute Battalion (152) which in March 1944 bore the brunt of the Japanese assault east from the River Chindwin .

396- to bear the brunt of the assault = soutenir / essuyer le plus fort de l'attaque

260- to bear the brunt of = être le plus touché par

260- to bear the brunt of = subir le plus fort de

260- to bear the brunt of = subir tout le poids de

 

8.MAINFRAME BUSINESS BEARS BRUNT OF SWINGEING NEW IBM CUTS.

211- to bear the brunt of = être le plus touché par

211- to bear the brunt of = subir le plus fort de

211- to bear the brunt of = subir tout le poids de

87- the brunt = le (plus gros du) choc

87- the brunt = le poids

 

A similar comparison of MWUs containing havoc in Defidic and the BNC yields the following results, in the same order (dictionary occurrences - dictionary pattern - rough corpus pattern):

 

it wrought havoc

this wreaked havoc with their plans

to cause havoc

to make havoc of

to play havoc with

to wreak havoc in

to wreak havoc on sth

to wreak havoc on

to wreak havoc

 

wreak

havoc

with

on

cause

havoc

play

havoc

with

make

havoc

of

 

 

wreak

such

horrible

financial

more

untold

seasonal

havoc

in

on

with

among

against

to

play

havoc

with

cause

some

such

havoc

at

to

for

in

around

make

much

havoc

of

create

such

havoc

in

do

such

havoc

 

As in the case of brunt, it seems that the choice of verbs taking havoc as object is far less limited than is recorded in the dictionary. Except perhaps in the case of play havoc with, where the choice of 'play' may induce a slight change in meaning (introducing the idea of purpose?), the verb is relatively irrelevant —wreak and cause are more frequent, and seem to combine in a restricted collocation with havoc. Similarly, the presence of determiners or adjectives, as well as the type of prepositional phrase that can follow havoc, are hardly predictable. The noun havoc was more than once found to function as antecedent of a relative clause (... and the havoc his hooligans wrought), and passivization is relatively frequent as well.

 

The performance of the defi matcher in identifying MWUs containing havoc is similar to that recorded for brunt: adjectives and determiners (or quantifiers) are never a problem, but differences in the nature of the support verb or in word order are not yet tackled.

 

9.Claiming that no-fault divorce was first introduced by Nazi Germany and that it had since wreaked "more havoc on the Allied countries than any German army or air force ever did" .

135- to wreak havoc on sth = dévaster qch

108- to wreak havoc on = dévaster

 

10.Countless independent "free house" owners have copied brewers' fashions and wrought untold havoc with unassuming old country pubs before moving on to pastures new .

Note: the failure of the matcher in this case (no result at all is returned), as often, is due to a weakness of the otherwise robust ENGCG parser: wrought is lemmatized only as work. Note that we consider the parser's results as a given, which we try to enrich but never to correct.

 

11.Whatever the Navy's intentions, their shells were landing in the Commando positions and causing some havoc .

127- to cause havoc = provoquer des dégâts

127- to cause havoc = tout mettre sens dessus dessous

 

12.Worrying not so much about the effects of heavy-duty exercise on their bodily contours, but with the havoc it is wreaking on their faces .

No results due to word order.

 

13.Direct sunlight plays havoc with the varnish.

213- to play havoc with = désorganiser complètement # chambouler

213- to play havoc with = abîmer, bousiller {coll}

 

14.Claret, chocolate or turkey curry stains can wreak seasonal havoc.

164- to wreak havoc = faire des ravages, dévaster # infliger des dégâts

 

The last two examples prove the point: for a lexicographer to decide intuitively which variations an idiom can undergo is impossible in practice. Moreover, in a recognition perspective, the expediency of such severity is also questionable: what is the need of specifying that a given variation is impossible? If it is really impossible it will not occur anyway, and if it occurs then it must be possible. It might be argued that beyond a certain level of manipulation, an idiom should not be read as an idiom any more, and the literal meaning should be forwarded. This is doubtful, however, since native speakers tend to play with idioms and to 'disguise' them while hoping that their readers/hearers will get the hint anyway (cf. Michiels, 1998; Dufour, 1998a).