Courts-Martial, Court-Martials, and Suffixes

So, when we use “court-martial” as a noun, it’s properly pluralized as “courts-martial”. But it seems we don’t use the same structure when it’s used as a verb: “court-martialed”, “court-martials”, etc.

Powers &8^]

“Court martial” is a postpositive adjective phrase from “Law French” dating back to when Old Norman French and Anglo Norman French were used in English courts; since “martial” is the adjective and “court” is the noun, the plural is courts martial. The verbing “court martialed” is an anglicized neologism and follows modern English conventions. Other postpostivie adjective phrases: attorney general, notary public, heir apparant, letters testamentary, etc.

Mainly the changing use of language. We have a Trades Union Council, but only the most pedantic would pluralise trade unions that way.

Passerby/passersby? Is this just a postpositive phrase that has been merged into a single word?

Passerby is a recent American corruption (or contraction) of “passer-by.”

If I see several insects with large colorful wings, are those buttersfly?

That’s a common trend as languages evolve.

When I was reading old books for Distributed Proofreading, I was surprised to see the change from “to day” into “to-day” into “today”. And even more surprised to see “to-morrow” – I had never realized that they started as separate words.

“Court-martial”, as a verb, is an informal pop-culture invention. If you want to be pedantic, the proper phrase is “to try by court-martial” (“try” being the verb, and “court-martial” being the venue where the trial is held).

In case you’re curious, this is called a postpositive adjective, and Wikipedia has an article with a decent list.

English as a language is quite comfortable with using nouns as verbs and verbs as nouns, at least colloquially. We seem to derive some humour out of it. Here’s another article.

Because it’s colloquial neologism, it doesn’t always follow the strict grammatical rules.

“Trades Union” is not a plural of “trade union”, but a rather old-fashioned variant of “trade union”, where “union” is the noun and “trade(s)” is an adjective. The Trades Union Council is so-called because it is a council composed of delegates from trades unions.

I like the fact that the verb “verb” arose through verbing of the noun “verb”.

Yes. This process (called clitization) is thought to be the way that postpositions become case inflections. That doesn’t explain why different inflectional classes arise, although some of that might be due to vowel harmonization. But that is clearly not sufficient.