Sparsed and cahooted

I encountered two unusual derivations in prominent places last week, and want to note them briefly.

First, Laura Slattery’s Irish Times report (5 April 2012) about investigative journalism by RTÉ, the state broadcaster, contains the following line:

New investigative television documentaries from the unit will be “sparsed throughout the year”, according to RTÉ director general Noel Curran.

The adjective sparse, meaning dispersed or (thinly) scattered, is common enough. It comes from Latin sparsus, past participle of spargere “scatter”. But sparsed is much rarer. The OED dates the participial adjective to the late-16th century and calls it “rare or obsolete”, and the verb sparse to around the same time: M16–E17.

COHA has no matches for sparsed or sparse (v.), which surprised me given their semantic transparency. But the form does appear online; there are other instances of “sparsed throughout”, for example.


Nick McGivney on Twitter drew my attention to cahoot (v.), a creative shortening of the phrase be in cahoots, meaning be in partnership, often secretly. On the RTE Radio 1 show Drivetime (4 April 2012, at 1:42:50 approx.), Michael Fitzmaurice of the Irish Turf Cutters and Contractors Association said:

Out of the blue yesterday, both the EU and the Irish government cahooted together and decided, “Naw, we’re not goin’ to let ye cut yeer turf.”*

Cahooted here seems to have been used as a synonym for conspired or colluded, but perhaps with slightly different connotations in the speaker’s idiolect. Cahoot(s) (n.) first appeared as U.S. slang, possibly from French cahute (cabin, hut) or cohorte.

I found no evidence of the verb cahoot on COHA either, though again it appears informally online; Wiktionary has an example from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “our leaders were lying, tricking and cahooting with Halliburton”. But the usage is sparse.


* yeer means your (plural) and was formed from ye by analogy with your. Both ye and yeer are common in colloquial Hiberno-English.


8 Responses to Sparsed and cahooted

  1. Marc Leavitt says:

    Cahoot with me to sparse this usage.

  2. Shaun Downey says:

    I’ve never seen sparsed or cahooted before. Thanks Stan

  3. Stan says:

    Marc: Darn cahootin’! I might just do that.

    Shaun: Both were new to me too, but (as is usually the case when I search online) they’ve already appeared here and there.

  4. Mise says:

    I do like ‘sparsed’ – a perfect culinary term. “Sparse the salsa with chopped chilli peppers…’

  5. Gabe says:

    I wonder if verbal “sparse”, despite its transparency and reasonableness, is rare b/c it’s blocked by the similar-sounding verb “space”. In the example you quoted, for instance, it sounded to me like the speaker intended “spaced” instead of “sparsed”.

    By the way, this post was a great start to my day, because I’m about to code a new version of a language model which has as one of its crucial pieces a sparse prior. I’ll challenge myself to work verbal sparse into the writeup.

  6. Alan Curry says:

    “cahooting” was used in the movie The Whole Nine Yards, a successful movie. I wonder if some of the later uses are consciously referencing that. It predates wiktionary’s citation by 3 years.

  7. Stan says:

    Mise: Good thought; I hadn’t considered that application of the word. Might experiment with it in the kitchen later!

    Gabe: The speaker may well have intended “spaced”. It would seem to fit perfectly. Maybe he was thinking “spaced sparsely” and hapax legomenonned his way into “sparsed”. Your work sounds interesting; I’m glad to’ve lent some supplementary serendipity.

    Alan: It’s possible — or they could be referencing it unconsciously. I’ve never seen the film, but a search mentions the lines: “Are you cahooting with them?” and “I had to pretend I was cahooting.” I’d imagine the word entered quite a few people’s vocabularies after that. Thanks for letting me know about it.

  8. […] the heroic and divine and the value of OK. At Sentence First, Stan Carey examined unusual uses of sparse and cahoot while Arnold Zwicky discussed who(m). Jessica Love at The American Scholar explained what makes […]

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