What part of speech is the word 'bolt' in the adverb 'bolt upright'?

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    OED says such adverbial usages "similatively" (in a similar manner) reflect the noun bolt - a shaft or missile designed to be shot from a crossbow or catapult, where the relevant attribute of the arrow is that it's straight. – FumbleFingers Jan 11 '16 at 15:21
  • @FumbleFingers : The idiom was formed from the now archaic definition listed in the dictionary meaning "suddenly." I referenced this definition with a link in the answer I posted. – Benjamin Harman Jan 11 '16 at 15:25
  • So is it a noun? – Artyom Lugovoy Jan 11 '16 at 15:31
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    quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/m/mec/… – TRomano Jan 11 '16 at 15:51
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    @Hugh: The exact entry in the full (subscription-only) OED is 1. The n. is used similatively (cf. snow-white adj. and n., sand-blind adj.) = ‘as a bolt,’ in bolt up (obs.), bolt upright (see upright adj. and n.); whence bolt-ˈuprightness n. But rather bizarrely, OED doesn't actually have a listing for the word similatively. The closest I could get was my link above to M-W's definition for similative as a noun - something expressing similarity. Make of that what you will. – FumbleFingers Jan 11 '16 at 17:16

Like you said, it's an adverb.

bolt : ...(adverb) 26. Archaic. with sudden meeting or collision; suddenly.

Wiktionary defines:

bolt: suddenly; straight; unbendingly. e.g. "The soldiers stood bolt upright for inspection."

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    In bolt upright it is indeed an "adverbial/adjectival" usage, but I disagree about the relevance of your archaic definition. The sense is of "straight" rather than "sudden". How else to explain over 9000 written instances of was sitting bolt upright? – FumbleFingers Jan 11 '16 at 15:28
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    Hi, Benjamin, why not edit your post including the meaning in the OP's context. You could use this link as a reference that says it means not only suddenly but also "straight, unbendingly" – user140086 Jan 11 '16 at 15:31
  • @Rathony: Your comment is certainly more "constructive" than mine! Benjamin - if you follow that advice I will make a point of reversing my downvote (but I do recognize there's scope for different opinions on this exact point). – FumbleFingers Jan 11 '16 at 17:22
  • I don't think you forgot what we discussed in the chat room for 2 hours. Let's do it. There is no harm in editing your answer following advice in comments. Do you think I really wanted to do this edit? No. Never. :-) – user140086 Jan 11 '16 at 17:28
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    Looks better. I upvote it. – user140086 Jan 12 '16 at 2:35

In the let's-sort-out-the-'adverb'-mess approach that linguists at the University of Sussex, for example, advocate it's a 'degree modifier' or more precisely a secondary modifier subclass adjective (in the 'he was sitting bolt upright' usage) modifier. From the University of Sussex:

Degree modifier

A degree modifier modifies an adjective or an adverb. Semantically, a degree modifier expresses the degree to which some quality is present. Here are some frames for degree modifiers:

This is a(n) ___ good book.

She poured the wine ___ carefully. Examples are very, so, really, rather, extremely, and the informal items kind of and sort of.

(But note the peculiar behaviour of these last two in the first frame: This is kind of a good book.)

Degree modifiers ending in -ly can be constructed with some freedom: amazingly, frightfully, awfully, terrifically, and so on. Traditional grammarians assigned these things to the class of”adverbs”, but degree modifiers are quite distinct from adverbs in their grammatical behaviour, and most linguists today prefer to recognize them as a distinct class. A few linguists call them “intensifiers”, but this label is inappropriate, since not all these words “intensify” the meaning of the adjective or adverb which is modified. English degree modifiers have no inflectional or derivational properties.

The number of secondary modifiers not ending in -ly is fairly small, and these are usually categorial polysemes of adjectives

(stony broke(!), dead slow, plain stupid, wide awake ...; piping hot (?), finger-lickin' good(?) ...; stone cold sober)

but there is the apparent odd exception (stock still).

(The comparable arrow-straight has obviously developed into a compound adjective.)

[I prefer the term 'secondary modifier' because many of these have distinct semantic content over and above an intensifying (etc) function (daringly low, dashingly handsome, deceptively spacious, oppressively close ...; contrast bland old 'very'.]


"Bolt" has several meanings, it can be a special screw mainly used on machines as shown in these pictures.

In picture four you see two bolts, one standing upright on its foot and one on its head.

Of course, I am not sure if this interpretation is the correct one. But "bolt upright" can't be explained with "a flash from the sky" nor with "arrow". "Bolt upright" is a shortened form of "upright like a bolt".

I would say bolt is a noun used as compound element of a two-part adjective or adverb.

  • I'm fairly certain that the idiom "bolt upright" is using the definition of "bolt" meaning "in an erect or straight-backed position". – Hot Licks Jan 11 '16 at 21:50

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