Talk:drift off

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After discussion in Tea Room in Feb 2009, this entry is being kept as a phrasal verb meaning fall asleep.

These are the entries which have been removed as being SoP. Reason being that drift means to move slowly (c.f. drift upstairs, drift along the path, drift into the room, etc. And off means away from someone or something (c.f. walk off, run off, wander off, drive off, etc.). -- ALGRIF talk 13:39, 3 March 2009 (UTC)

  1. (intransitive, idiomatic) To become preoccupied or inattentive.
    • 1922, F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Beautiful and Damned, ch. 1:
      He dropped the newspaper, yawned, and let his mind drift off at a tangent.
  2. (intransitive, idiomatic) To leave or depart in a slow or meandering manner; to become gradually separated.
    • 1903, P. G. Wodehouse, A Prefect's Uncle, ch. 8:
      He drifted off in the direction of the Pavilion.

Tea room discussion[edit]

Note: the below discussion was moved from the Wiktionary:Tea room.

This has three intransitive and two transitive senses listed (as of this writing). Seems to me the transitive senses are SoP rather than real phrasal verbs. Citations given for the transitive sentences are if she saw crumbs on the dinner-table her mind drifted off the conversation and Men drifted off the verandah in pairs, which both seem to me to be drifted + prepositional phrase. What think you all?—msh210 18:09, 10 February 2009 (UTC)

So it seems to me too.
Was Msh210 not the one who suggested that, for idioms that had plausible non-idiomatic interpretations as well as the idiomatic one(s), the literal be included for contrast? That has seemed sensible to me most (nearly all?) of the time, especially since common sense usually prevents folks from doing really silly things. However, where there are many plausible non-idiomatic readings this could, in principle, lead to an entry for an idiom in which the single idiomatic sense was buried in plausible non-idiomatic readings that were mostly repetitions of some polysemic words' definitions.
Phrasal verbs pose a problem analogous to the one posed by idioms. There are often both phrasal and non-phrasal readings of the head(multi)word, which arguably should be contrasted for the benefit of (advanced?) language learners. Because phrasal verbs contain both common verbs and prepositions, both of which are often highly polysemic, there is even more potential for obscuring the phrasal senses among contrasting non-phrasal senses. DCDuring TALK 18:50, 10 February 2009 (UTC)
I did suggest that, but am not sure to what extent I still agree with it. As DCDuring says, and as I said, it often makes sense; but the problem DCDuring mentions really is a problem. Perhaps a note ("sometimes this is merely A + B") can be placed on the page instead? (That would work for all cases, I think, not only those that would be inundated with literal senses.) It can be placed s.v =Usage notes=, I think, since it is one, or as a pseudo-sense (by which I here mean: on a numbered line, in a POS section, but with only the one line per POS no matter how many senses are meant by the SoP).—msh210 19:00, 10 February 2009 (UTC)
Would a template {{usage note}} (or something) inserting boilerplate text including a link to [[idiom]] or [[phrasal verb]] be appropriate? "idiom" and "phrasal verb" could be parameters, which would allow for other applications. DCDuring TALK 19:17, 10 February 2009 (UTC)
I think a templatified usage note indicating the existence of SoP senses not listed is a grand idea. Not template:usage note, since there are lots of other usage notes that can be (and have been) templatified: see special:prefixindex/template:en-usage. Perhaps template:en-usage-sum-senses-too or en-usage-phrasal or some such?—msh210 18:34, 11 February 2009 (UTC)
I had the same thought about the transitive usages (that they are SoP-ish), even as I was adding these senses and the quotations to this entry. But I decided to stick with them for two reasons: (1) it's not 100% clear where exactly an idiomatic usage shades into a literal one--strictly, I doubt anyone mentioned in any of the quotations is literally drifting, and (2) the construct ("drift off"), with all its varied shades, is well set in the language. -- WikiPedant 21:44, 10 February 2009 (UTC)
After further consideration, I edited the entry to remove the transitive senses and their accompanying quotations. I added one new quotation, showing intransitive usage, for sense2. The transitive usages probably were unvarnished SoP, and are not recognized as distinct senses of a phrasal verb by other dictionaries. -- WikiPedant 23:52, 10 February 2009 (UTC)

(after edit conflict with news that specific issue is moot, though general one remains)

"Drifting" has figurative meanings. "Off" has many more figurative than literal meanings, if such a distinction has any meaning at all for prepositions and adverbs. The literal/figurative distinction is not part of WT:CFI. We have no specific working definition that distinguishes includable phrasal verbs from non-includable collocations of the same words. We rely on the rules and guidelines for idioms.
The entry for "drift off" does not have all its varied shards. It has three or five. MWOnline shows 6/12 senses/subsenses for "drift" (verb), 5/11 for "off" (adverb), and 4/7 for "off" (preposition). I would expect more than five from among the 216 SoP combinatorial possibilities, not to mention the additional idiomatic ones.
If entries for phrasal verbs have value it would be precisely because they highlight a distinctive combination of senses of the component words by excluding senses that are directly derivable from the general senses of the components. I could see that it might take a language learner a long time to put together the right sense of "set" with the right sense of "out" or "upon".
The OneLook dictionaries have only one sense of "drift off", an intransitive sense meaning "fall asleep gradually". DCDuring TALK 00:17, 11 February 2009 (UTC)
All true, but I'm moving on for now. The WT entry is now superior to any entry for this term which I can find in any other dictionary. (The OED, curiously, has no entry at all for "drift off," not even under "drift" where it does mention drift around, by, in, out, and apart.) -- WikiPedant 00:37, 11 February 2009 (UTC)
The senses not related to sleep seem like a verb + an adverb and, contrary to their context label, not idiomatic. DCDuring TALK 03:06, 11 February 2009 (UTC)
I admit I tend to have a lower idiomaticity threshold than some, but it seems to me that all senses pass the Egyptian Pyramid and In Between tests. The most general sense of "drift" (v.) is to be carried in a current or to move aimlessly. All these senses imply more specific sorts of situations and, hence, satisfy Egyptian Pyramid. And it would be unnatural to insert another word between "drift" and "off" when the expression has these senses, satisfying In Between. -- WikiPedant 06:04, 11 February 2009 (UTC)
Our current three senses are intransitive: "to fall asleep gradually", "to become inattentive", and "to depart slowly". Of these, I doubt the second. The citation for it is "He ... let his mind drift off", which I think is the "depart slowly" sense. Can anyone find good citations for the second sense? Of the remaining senses, the first is definitely not SoP, whereas the third seems to be, since drift means "move slowly" (first verb sense) and off means "away" (first adverb sense). That leaves us with the first sense only, as DCDuring says the OneLook dictionaries have.—msh210 18:34, 11 February 2009 (UTC)
  • Having mulled this over a bit and checked with other sources, I think that "drift off" has only the one phrasal verb sense. That of "falling asleep". The analysis that "drift" = "move slowly" + "off" = "away" being SoP is correct. (C.f. walk, run, stumble, tiptoe, etc, + "off") However, "to become inattentive" needs a bit more thought on my part. At the moment I think it is the same as "depart slowly", as Msh210 suggests. But let's research some cites before finalising the decision.
    Referring to the idea of including literal definitions or notes about literal definitions being possible; in my opinion I think this is unnecessary and would make many phrasal verb entries unreadable. I do, still, advocate a "phrasal verb" template which would give the possibility of 1) standardising the inflections, 2) allowing a sub-header stating that it is a phrasal verb, and 3) adding the category automatically. -- ALGRIF talk 13:54, 12 February 2009 (UTC)
    I detect an emerging micro-consensus. DCDuring TALK 15:51, 12 February 2009 (UTC)
  • I hope we can agree to strike and revise the entry? I have taken the bull by the horns, anyway. -- ALGRIF talk 13:43, 3 March 2009 (UTC)