LINGUIST List 10.918

Tue Jun 15 1999

Sum: Sarcastic Imperatives

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Kevin R. Gregg, Sarcastic imperatives

Message 1: Sarcastic imperatives

Date: Tue, 15 Jun 1999 13:27:57 +0900
From: Kevin R. Gregg <>
Subject: Sarcastic imperatives

Last month (v.10-727) I inquired about sarcastic imperatives, as in
Japanese *baka ie!* ('say something stupid!'=that's stupid). I received a
couple of dozen responses, which I would have summarized earlier had I not
had computer problems that rendered me incommunicado. Anyway, here goes:

1) First of all, my thanks to the following for their contributions:
Karen W. Burdette
Wendy Burnett
Susan Meredith Burt
Tim Dunnigan
Gisbert Fanselow
Mark Irwin
John E. Koontz
Ricardo J. Lima
Bart Mathias
Kenjiro Matsuda
Kumiko Nakamura
Michele J. Neylon
Ellen F. Prince
James Quinn
H. Schiffman
Robin Setton
Joan Smith
Lena Sokolova
H. Stephen Straight
Hidemitsu Takahashi
Theo Vennemann
Remy Viredaz
Ulrich Wassner

2) A couple of people kindly pointed out that I was wrong (I hate it
when that happens) about the register of the Japanese cases: in fact, not
only can one say *baka ie!* (the least polite form), but also *baka
iinasai!* and even a seemingly contradictory polite *baka osshai!*. But I
seem to have been correct in assuming that the forms in question (*baka
ie*, *uso o tuke*) are formulaic and not productive. 

3) With respect to English, I was, as I expected, overlooking a number
of examples, both specific/formulaic and more general. Some of the
expressions supplied to me:
 See if I care!
 Dream on!
 Go on! (=don't be silly)
 Shut up! (=wow!)
 Get outta here! (=you're joking!)
 You just do that
 Just keep it up
 Go figure
 Tell me another, which, like Pull the other one, seems to be
British only

 More generally useable forms include
 So *don't* V (tell me/signal/apologize.....)
 V, why don't you?/Why don't you V? (V=e.g. try to be more
sarcastic?/cut in front of me/step on my other foot etc.
 Go ahead, V (V=make a fool of yourself, ignore our feelings....)
Note that these seem more natural with an attached phrase of some sort (So,
why don't you?, Go ahead) Hidemitsu Takahashi has called my attention to a
paper of his that seems relevant here, 'English imperatives and speaker
commitment' (Language Sciences 16:371-385 (1994)), which suggests speaker
commitment as a dimension along which imperatives can vary.
4) Examples from other languages:
 Ben voyons! (oh, right=fat chance)
 Vas-y, casse-toi la gueule! (go on, break your neck; ie ignore my
 Mais oui/c'est ca ([sa], not [ka]--my machine can't do diacritics)
moque-toi de moi! (sure, laugh at me)
 C'est ca, depense tout ton fric! (go ahead, spend all your money!)
 Va savoir (go know) =? go figure

 Mach dich nur zum Narren! (make a fool of yourself!)
 Red dich bloss weiter um Kpof und Kragen! (keep on talking so that
you'll be condemned to death)
 Sprich mit 'ner Kuh Franzoesisch! (Talk French to a cow! i.e. it's
like talking to the wall)

PORTUGUESE (Brazilian):
 Vai em frente! (go ahead--to someone who already has)

 Rasskazyvaj! (Tell! = it's not true, you're lying)
 Derzhi karman shire! (Make your pocket wider! i.e. to receive the
good things (metaphorically) you're foolishly hoping for. Sounds like the
equivalent to 'dream on!')

 Gey veys/Geyt veyst (go know! source of Eng. 'go figure'?)
 Freyg mir (ask me=don't ask me)
I'll refrain from commenting on individual examples, but looking at the lot
of them suggests to me that pure parallels to the Japanese examples are
fairly, and perhaps surprisingly, rare (e.g. Va savoir, Rasskazyvaj). 

Kevin R. Gregg
Momoyama Gakuin University
(St. Andrew's University)
1-1 Manabino, Izumi
Osaka 594-1198 Japan 0725-54-3131 (ext. 3622)
fax. 0725-54-3202
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