Join your child (to the library)

I noticed this banner ad on the window of my local city library:


stan carey - galway city library - join your child for free


Obviously it means a parent can sign their child up to join the library for free, but it’s open to another interpretation – that parents themselves are invited to sign up for free, thereby joining their child, who is implied to be a member already.

Indeed, this second reading may be the more natural one in similar lines not referring exclusively to children. Consider the more ambiguous join your friend for free, or join the rest of your family for free.

Usually when person A joins person B it means they meet or come together. Or A, a priest, might join B and C in marriage. Join in the sense become a member, as in the photo, usually has the organisation or entity as the direct object of join: she joined the library; he joined the queue.

It struck me as an idiosyncratic but economical usage of join. And though it doesn’t appear to be in any of the major dictionaries yet, a rummage around online shows it’s quite common in similar contexts. This stands to reason, since parents routinely act on a child’s behalf when the child joins a library, club, school activity, and so on.

I got to wondering what preposition would follow this usage, were it extended to include one. Probably to: Join your child to the library. This may conjure images of parents sticking their children to the building with Velcro, but sure enough there are several examples online of parents being invited to join your child to the library/club/centre/class.

Have you noticed this use of join? What are your thoughts on it?


14 Responses to Join your child (to the library)

  1. gill says:

    Yes, the ambiguity here is very economical and fortuitous. Thanks for the example; I’m interested in changing verb patterns. Normally,as you say, ‘join’ in the ‘sign up to’ sense has a ‘thing’ (institution etc) as object. In the ‘join your child’ sense, the object is of course a person. I think something similar is happening to ‘debate’ – normally you debate a ‘thing’ (issue, topic etc). Now it seems you can debate a person, as in “He said the opposition refused to debate him” – lots of corpus hits for this. I wonder if this is a particular trend amongst certain verbs. (You point out that ‘join’ has a reciprocal sense, and so does ‘debate’.) Can you think of others that are changing in the same way – i.e acquiring human objects in one or more of their senses?

    • Stan says:

      Gill, thanks for your insights on this. I’m glad it’s not just me who finds it interesting! I was surprised by your point about debate; I wouldn’t have guessed debating someone rather than something was a modern development. It might not be all that recent: in Jack London’s The Little Lady of the Big House (1916), for example, we find: “Edlin, the Russian Jew, out-debated him on the contention that property was robbery.” I imagine it’s older than that, but maybe not a lot.

      Another example that might interest you is a related usage of burst, courtesy of a tip on Twitter: “what happens next will burst you into tears”. But this one hasn’t caught on more widely yet.

      • gill says:

        Thanks Stan, I guess you are right about ‘debate’ with a human object.- there are several hits in Google Books. Funnily enough, the second of the exas given there was my own – in Susan Hunston’s and my Pattern Grammar. We are discussing the oddness of “as if I could debate him into loving me”. Now that IS odd, given the meaning of the pattern ‘verb sb into doing sth’. Reasonable talk is not typical in the pattern – mostly it’s verbs like ‘bully’, ‘nag’, ‘co-erce’…

        All the same, ‘debate’ with an object like ‘the issue’ is hugely more frequent than ‘debate him|her’ etc – I think that is why this sounds so peculiar when I hear it. There are all these transitivity options floating about from past uses, and then one becomes flavour of the mo. I looked at ‘debate him|her’ on Google ngram viewer – the graph shows a rapid increase in recent decades. Of course it doesn’t cover things like ‘debate the prime minister’ – this is needle-in-a-haystack stuff as most hits for ‘debate the’ will be about issues etc.

        Thanks for the one about ‘burst’ – I’ll follow its progress!

  2. Timothy Gwyn says:

    I give your library points for brevity, but then why is the banner so long?

  3. Charles Sullivan says:

    Another preposition that seems to fit is “with”. Join your child with the library. This seems less likely to suggest the Velcro interpretation.

  4. Stan says:

    Timothy: I guess the banner came before the text.

    Charles: With is another option, but it doesn’t seem to have any currency in this construction; I found just one example of “join your child with [X]” (in this case an academy of geometry), and it seems to be from a non-native-English speaker.

  5. Lauren says:

    I find this construction sounds strange no matter what you try to add to it.

    Why not, “Your child joins free!!!” or simply, “Children join free!!!”

  6. gill says:

    I’d guess that ‘FOR free’ wasn’t always as widespread or acceptable as it is now. But the ambiguity is neat, with its implication that you are already a member, and if you aren’t then it doesn’t matter.

  7. Kory Stamper says:

    An organization that I do freelance writing and editing for had “join leaders” as an action point on a membership document, and they meant “bring leaders into the organization.” I wielded my arsenal of dictionaries to no avail: they thought this use of “join leaders” was totally idiomatic and unambiguous. Maybe it is in business-speak?

    I’d be tempted to use “up” with “join,” but “join your children up the library” sounds vaguely obscene. Then again, this is me we’re talking about.

  8. Stan says:

    Lauren: “Children join free” is how I would be inclined to phrase it, if I were in the library-banner-ad-composing business. But I don’t object to this innovation at all. Most new usages sound strange at first.

    Gill: The “for free” bit is another aspect that’s eliciting different reactions. It’s an unremarkable usage to my ears.

    Kory: Thanks for the additional example! Even primed by context, I misinterpreted “join leaders” until you explained it. I guess what people are used to can become idiomatic and unambiguous to them.
    You could use up in a less connotatively problematic way: “Join up your child (to the library).” But then you might as well use sign.

  9. David L says:

    They could have said “Enjoin your child to join the library,” but perhaps that sounds too nineteenth century.

  10. gill says:

    I found this on a BBC website devoted to the usual tired old whinges about Americanisms: “I got it for free” is a pet hate. You got it “free” not “for free”. You don’t get something cheap and say you got it “for cheap” do you?”. Mind you it was only 48 on a list of 50!

    Funny how these contributors appeal to parallel phraseologies that we don’t use in order to condemn those that we do. Have they never heard of collocation?

  11. Stan says:

    David: A novel suggestion. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard enjoin used in casual conversation; if nothing else it would allow for homophonic puns with enjoyin’.

    Gill: Ah yes, the great BBC anti-Americanisms furore. I don’t think the 50 peeves were in any particular order, mind. My post on anti-Anti-Americanismism looked at this phenomenon in a little more detail.

  12. […] of these, you may have spotted, is a library book, while another appeared in an earlier bookmash and I still haven’t read it. I discussed […]

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