LINGUIST List 4.277

Fri 16 Apr 1993

Sum: Rude Negation

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  1. RichardHudson50, Naughty negatives: summary

Message 1: Naughty negatives: summary

Date: Thu, 15 Apr 93 12:03:25 +0Naughty negatives: summary
From: RichardHudson50 <>
Subject: Naughty negatives: summary

My message about "Bollocks he did!" aroused more interest than
anything else I've ever written - no fewer than 47 replies, either via
Linguist or direct. We linguists obviously enjoy writing about naughty

This message is a summary of the responses. I'm sending a separate
message about some challenges to syntactic theory.

Here's a list of all my correspondents, with thanks to them all for
taking the trouble. I've divided them into male and female (with one
wild guess!), because of the gross difference in numbers (38 male, 9
female). Does this show anything about gender differences in use of /
expertise in / interest in naughty words?

 Milton Azevedo, Laurie Bower, John Bro, Ed Burstynsky, Paul
 Chapin, John Cowan, Tom Cravens, Robert Davis, Alexis
 Dimitriadis, Sam Glucksberg, John Goldsmith, Angus Grieve-
 Smith, Steve Harlow, Randy Allen Harris, Peter Hendriks,
 Michael Henderson, Rich Hilliard, Larry Horn, Daniel Karvonen,
 Paul Kershaw, John Kingston, (?) Randy LaPolla, Tze-Wan Kwan,
 John Limber, Mark Mandel, Geoffrey Nathan, Bruce Nevin, David
 Newton, Stewart Nichols, Neil Norrick, Nick Ostler, Harold
 Schiffman, Andy Spencer, Joe Stemberger, Joe Tomei, Larry
 Trask, Max Wheeler, Nick Youd

 Georgia Green, Heidi Hamilton, Cat McGlothlin, Melissa
 Macpherson, Norma Mendoza-Denton, Elise Morse-Gage, Mary Neff,
 Benji Wald, Cherilyn Young



1. The main point is that my example (1) is *not* very revolutionary
in principle, because there are clear precedents based on other
naughty words, notably THE HELL:

(1) Bollocks he did! (meaning "No, he didn't")
(2) The hell he did!

Let's call this the *cataphoric* use, because BOLLOCKS etc relates to
the status of the following proposition.

2. On the other hand, none of my correspondents claimed to have heard
BOLLOCKS used in this way before, so it is a (little) first (and maybe
last ...). (Actually, Steve Harlow, another Brit but based in York,
said it sounded fairly normal, so maybe it all started in (old) York?)

3. Other words/word-pairs that are acknowledged by one or more
correspondent in the cataphoric pattern are:


But most correspondents recognised only two or three forms, and some
geographical differences emerge (e.g. LIKE FUN came from an
Australian). E.g. Joe Tomei explicitly rejects THE SHIT in this
pattern, and I rejected NONSENSE which Stewart Nichols explicitly
accepts. Nick Ostler finds THE DEVIL and THE HELL `rather club-land
(UK) in tone' (I agree, incidentally). The question-mark after MY FOOT
is because it comes from Benji Wald, who is really discussing the
forms rather than where they occur; it is allowed by others at the end
of the sentence, but can she use it at the start? Keep your eyes open
for BULL CRUD - it was supplied by a 20-year old in person. It's
Texan, apparently.

Incidentally, Randy Allen Harris (West-Coast Canadian) says that FUCK
YOU can be used cataphorically, but means "... isn't true, you're

4. Another cataphoric use of some similar words expresses surprise,
not disagreement. For Laurie Bauer, for instance, (3) is like this.

(3) The bugger it is!

John Bro recognises this use as well, though he thinks it's
distinguished from the negative one by the intonation - it has the
focus on the naughty word, and the rest of the sentence defocussed
(see para 8).

5. Another pattern in which BOLLOCKS is used (the only pattern till
now), is *anaphoric*, meaning "That's *** not true!". Some of these
words can be used cataphorically but not anaphorically, and vice
versa. The following can apparently be used anaphorically:


6. A third pattern of use, which we might call *exclamative*, doesn't
seem to have any propositional content at all, but expresses intense
dissatisfaction with the way the world currently is - used e.g. when
you hit your thumb with a hammer, or delete a file by accident. The
forms used here are as follows:


I think Mark Mandel includes THE HELL and THE DEVIL here, but I'm not
sure. There may of course be far more than this, because this people
weren't commenting on this use.

7. Some correspondents link some or all forms directly with
*phonetics*. Tom Cravens says the vowel in anaphoric SHIT is longer
than the one in exclamative SHIT.

8. Some commented on *intonational* restrictions. Sam Glucksberg
thinks NONSENSE may be ok cataphorically provided its first syllable
is heavily stressed. Harold Schiffman and John Kingston think the
intonation is limited in cataphoric cases - fall on the naughty word,
then rising thereafter. On the other hand, John Bro thinks this
intonation pattern means something like "Gosh, you don't say?",
whereas the negative meaning requires intonation focus, with a fall,
on the last word, e.g. DID. [beware of misunderstanding!]

9. Rich Hilliard comments on the syntax of the sentence following a
cataphoric word. It has to be very simple, and maybe it has to consist
of nothing but a pronoun and a verb. His starred examples are:

(4)a *The hell I did it!
 b *The hell Susan knows!
 c *The hell you say it's a boy!
 d *The hell my mom thinks!

This seems to move it into the same world as tag questions. Maybe the
rest of the sentence has to be entirely *anaphoric*, so even our
`cataphoric' use is in effect anaphoric.

10. Nick Ostler points out the possibility of having the negator at
the *end* of the sentence, which seems to combine the cataphoric and
anaphoric functions, and which seems to link up with the recently-
discussed use of clause-final NOT, doesn't it? . His example is (5a),
and John Limber provided a similar example, (5b).

(5)a He did, my foot.
 b Safe my ass. (meaning it's definitely not `safe' [baseball])

Neal Norrick makes the same point, and adds MY BALLS as a possible
end-position negator (though not possible in initial position). He
also allows MY EYE here. Also Angus Grieve-Smith for MY ASS and MY EYE
in final position.

11. Other languages. Nick Ostler provided a similar example from
French (interesting reappearance of MY EYE, listed above!):

(6) Il est arrive mon oeil!

Tze-wan Kwan gives a Chinese (Mandarin?) example:

(7) Ta hui chang ge pi.
 She can sing (piece) wind from bowels. (i.e. she can't sing)

Apparently Cantonese uses male and female organs instead of wind.

12. BOLLOCKS is a Britishism. It's recognised (with that spelling) by
the Collins Cobuild Eng Lang Dictionary as (1) a rude swearword which
is used in very informal English to express disagreement, dislike or
defiance, (2) a noun meaning testicles (but `a very rude and offensive
use'). Some correspondents didn't believe the spelling and converted
it, without comment, either into BULLOCKS or BALLOCKS. (According to
John Cowan, BALLOCKS is the normal American spelling of the word.)
Apparently both of these are etymologically justifiable, because it
goes back to the Middle English BALLOCK, Old English BEALLUC, meaning
`testicle', which is related not only to BALL but also to BULL. I
don't know what the second morph "ock" meant. (Question: are testicles
called balls because they look like balls, or the other way round?)

Well, there it is folks - just goes to show there's more to grammar
than you might expect. I'll highlight some of the issues in a separate
message. Thanks for your help.

Dick Hudson
Dept of Phonetics and Linguistics,
University College London,
Gower Street,
London WC1E 6BT
(071) 387 7050 ext 3152
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