I Shall be Released

Browsing the internet yesterday, I noticed an article headlined thus: Marvel’s Dr. Strange has already released in the UK (and here in Ireland too, so I might catch it soon). Nothing  too strange (no pun intended, but gladly accepted) there, you might think. But that has already released… really bothers me. It shouldn’t, but it does. Why? Because every fibre of my pedantic being tells me that it should be:

Marvel’s Dr. Strange has already been released in the UK.

Let’s step back for a moment and look at the grammar behind that feeling.

To release is what is known as a transitive verb. This means that it must be accompanied by a direct object. In layman’s terms, you have to release something, be it a film, book, album, doves, the Kraken, whatever. If we’re talking about releasing a film, book, or album though, we usually don’t care about the studio, publishing house, or record company releasing it. So we use the passive voice to avoid having to mention them. For example:

The film will be released in the US next week.

The book is being published/released this week.

The album was released ten years ago today.

But what’s happening is that people have now begun to use to release as an intransitive verb, which doesn’t require an object (e.g. to walk, to sneeze, to sit), like so:

The film will release in the US next week.

The book is releasing this week.

The album released ten years ago today.

Which, to my cultured ear, sounds terrible, because when I hear a sentence with to release in the active voice, I’ve been trained by experience to expect an object to follow it. When it doesn’t, it’s frustrating, like listening to only one side of a phone conversation on the bus.

What I find strangest about this is that it seems to have happened very recently, in about the last year or so. On Google, “will release on” gets 742,000 hits, and “will be released on” a mammoth 20,300,000. I think that difference becomes less important though, when you consider how much longer to release has been used as a transitive verb. Will be released on is bound to get more hits because it’s been used more often over a long period of time. Using it as an intransitive verb is definitely very common now, and I’m curious to see if it’s just a fad, or will continue to increase in use.

Why are so many people using it this way? I honestly have no idea (nor do I know why it’s become so common so quickly). It simply doesn’t make sense to me. Whenever the verb has been used, it’s been assumed that two agents have been involved: the releaser and the released. You don’t just get to walk out of prison: the authorities have to release you. And if there weren’t someone there to release the Kraken only at suitable times, and he could instead stomp around to his heart’s content, most of our major coastal towns and cities would have been destroyed long ago. Which is why it feels so strange to me to hear about films releasing. Yeah, we might not really care about who’s releasing them, but we still know that someone had to do it.

Of course languages evolve, and verbs can change their meaning, or shift from being transitive to being intransitive. And let’s be honest, the meaning of The film has released is still clear, even if it feels (for some) like that sentence is missing a couple of words from the end. It’s just a shame from a personal point of view to see the language lose some of its precision, and a verb that subtly and elegantly described a relationship between two things without necessarily mentioning both, become so simplified.

5 thoughts on “I Shall be Released

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