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The title is a usage example from Merriam-Webster Learners Dictionary...

broadcast [noun, noncount]
the act of sending out radio or television signals : the act of broadcasting something

My first thought when I was asked about this in an ELL comment was that I personally would have used the gerund -ing form there (on checking Google Books I find about 201 results for the M-W version, and about 317 for the gerund, so at least I'm in the not-exactly-overwhelming majority).

I'm not saying I think M-W's usage is "incorrect" - but as implied, I feel it's at least slightly "marked". Offhand the only similar case I can think of is traffic, where the uninflected version occurs 540 times, but the gerund version gets only 115 hits for a similar context.

I wasn't surprised by the fact that the ratios reverse for traffic (again, my preference matches the majority, but I don't find the alternative completely unacceptable). But I've no idea why this might be so (unless maybe we tend to avoid traficking because of that awkward-looking extra k).

I don't know if it's relevant, but I think I lean more towards including a definite article with the uninflected noun in the title example and, say, We will legislate against the traffic in illegal drugs.

Can anyone explain why some "uninflected verb used as noun" usages like this occur? Are there are any more examples, and if so, do they have anything in common?

  • 1
    Feels a bit like "Can anyone explain why inconsistencies in the English language exist?" – Max Williams Jul 21 '16 at 13:55
  • Interestingly the wikipedia page for broadcasting starts with "Broadcast" redirects here. For other uses, see Broadcast (disambiguation). and ODO does not even list the activity of broadcasting as meaning for broadcast. It only lists the program. Which both supports your initial thoughts. – Helmar Jul 21 '16 at 14:02
  • @Max Williams: That's a bit of a "one size fits all" dismissal. For the two verbs I've put forward, the specific context isn't so common that I'm likely to have been sufficiently familiar with them to be aware of "preferred" usage simply on the basis of which versions I've actually encountered more often. It seems far more likely to me that there is some underlying principle involved. Something my Wernicke's area has a handle on, even if it's not very accessible to my conscious thought processes. – FumbleFingers Jul 21 '16 at 14:53
  • @FumbleFingers I disagree with MW's description of the non-count usage of broadcast, maybe a US/UK thing, but I don't think so. Non-count broadcast seems to refer to the material which is being broadcast in real time, not the act of broadcasting. Live broadcast of the event appeared on news channels all over the world, for example seems acceptable to me. But The broadcast of the event was criminal and should never have been allowed will not work if we understand broadcast to mean the act of broadcasting as opposed to the material itself. In my opinion, this is a rare stuff up by MW. – Araucaria Jul 21 '16 at 15:49
  • @Araucaria: I don't know that US/UK divergence is a factor here. The title example source is obviously American, but most likely the reason the text itself might sound a bit more American to me is simply that I think Brits would be more likely to use publication (or transmission if they needed to be more specific). I don't sense anything particularly US/UK-related in respect of the choice between broadcast and broadcasting for this specific case (but I admit trafficking reminds me a bit of BrE/Victorian things like physick). – FumbleFingers Jul 21 '16 at 16:14
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Some alternative examples I can think of:

The doctor authorised (the) discharge of the patient.
All clear for takeoff.
The government ordered (the) lockdown of its embassy.

All of the words in bold seem like they may have started life in this form as jargon specific to the sector they pertain to (they are all technical terms) but have made their way into common usage.

I would say that "broadcast" and "traffic" (of drugs) fall into the same category.

  • Well, the situation is somewhat different with takeoff and *lockdown, since you'd have to split them to make -ing versions that might feasibly be acceptable: The controllers suspended taking off for international flights. The government ordered locking down of the embassy. But +1 for discharge, since that's one where both versions definitely work for me. Plus I've just realised I'm fine with I endorse work / working on this problem, so that looks like another one. – FumbleFingers Jul 21 '16 at 20:09
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I have always thought of a gerund as encompassing a broader concept, more than a specific instance. M-W's definition therefore gives a hint: the (one or a very specific) act of (the broader or overall set of acts of) broadcasting. In this way, the title is, while not technically incorrect, awkward. I would have preferred "The judge decided to allow a or the broadcast of the trial." Another way of saying this is: "broadcasting trials" (generally) is or may be controversial, versus "the broadcast of" O. J. Simpson's trial (a specific trial) was interesting. Now, there is also another subtlety: "broadcasting O. J. Simpson's trial was interesting" would thus apply more to a discussion of broadcasting, generally, than to a discussion of the technicalities of that trial itself. Does this make sense?

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