LINGUIST List 4.278

Fri 16 Apr 1993

Disc: Rude Negation

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  1. RichardHudson50, Naughty negatives & linguistic theory
  2. Larry Horn, Re: 4.274 Rude negators
  3. , RE: 4.263 Rude negators
  4. "James M. Scobbie", Re: 4.274 Rude negators

Message 1: Naughty negatives & linguistic theory

Date: Thu, 15 Apr 93 12:33:42 +0Naughty negatives & linguistic theory
From: RichardHudson50 <>
Subject: Naughty negatives & linguistic theory

Re "X he did", where X may = THE HELL, ......

I've summarised the facts, as gathered over the LINGUIST net, in a
separate message to LINGUIST. In this message I want to raise some
questions for linguistic theory that seem to arise out of these facts.

The basic data are summarised in the following examples, with NW
standing for `naughty word':

(1) Bullshit/*balls/hell/like hell/my ass/... it is.
(2) It is my ass/*bullshit/*balls/...
(3) Bullshit/Balls/..! (= what you've just said is false)
(4) *Bullshit/Hell/*Like hell/Shit/...! (= Damn!)
(5) *Bullshit/... nobody came.

Q1. If (1-4) are grammatical, they must be generated by a grammar.
How, given that they don't have canonical sentence structures with
verbs etc.?

Q2. What is the syntactic structure of (1-2)? In particular, is the NW
subordinate or superordinate to the rest of the sentence?
a. If it's subordinate, then it's (presumably) like NO WAY in (5).

(5) No way am I going down there!

Since the meaning is negative, why no subject-aux inversion?
b. If it's superordinate, why doesn't the rest of the sentence behave
like a subordinate clause/CP, with a subordinator such as THAT?

(6) The hell (*that) he is!

In other words, what does the NW subcategorize for? IP?

Q3. How can a sentence-final NW like (2) subcategorise for a preceding

Q4. It seems that the rest of the sentence must consist of nothing but
a pronoun and an auxiliary (e.g. "it is", but not "that happened"). If
so, how can a grammar impose this restriction?

Q5. What is the semantic structure of a sentence like this, such that
it can be distinguished from a simple negation?

There are a good few PhDs in all this, especially when other languages
come into consideration!

Dick Hudson
Dept of Phonetics and Linguistics,
University College London,
Gower Street,
London WC1E 6BT
(071) 387 7050 ext 3152
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Message 2: Re: 4.274 Rude negators

Date: Wed, 14 Apr 93 21:49:08 EDRe: 4.274 Rude negators
From: Larry Horn <LHORNYaleVM.YCC.Yale.Edu>
Subject: Re: 4.274 Rude negators

In connection with Benji Wald's intuitions on the euphemistic value of certain
rude-negator-substitutes, my own intuition is that the differentiation of
his "like fish" (with which I'm not familiar) vs. *like meat, *like tuna
depends more on the initial consonant of the object of pseudo-comparison than
on its referential content. In fact for me, the euphemistic pre-canceller
of choice is "Like fun, I am!", which exhibits the same crucial
phonological property of containing a, but not the, F-word. (Or is
'an, but not the, F-word'?) And for what it's worth, I get " {ass/foot/
eye}", but all of them only after the cancelled item, thus functioning quite
like retro-NOT, ironic "I don't think", and their ilk, as opposed to the
cancellation-initial "Like {hell/fuck} I am" or "The fuck he is".
 Larry Horn
P.S. I think "Like fudge" is OK too, but it's only in my passive grammar.
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Message 3: RE: 4.263 Rude negators

Date: Thu, 15 Apr 93 11:20
From: <>
Subject: RE: 4.263 Rude negators

There is a variant on "the hell she did/bollocks she did" etc.
involving a reversal of word order, in my idiolect at least:

 Did he hell!
 or Did he fuck!

where the latter is to be interpreted as a rhetorical question
implying a negative answer, rather than an enquiry about the
referent's sexual history. (Falling intonation on the last word).

As far as I am aware these can only be used in reply to a question,
i.e. they are parodying the syntax of the original enquiry:

 A: Did he pay you the money he owed you?
 B: Did he fuck!

Anyone else come across these?

These rude negators are getting ruder all the time. Sorry.

University of Birmingham, U.K.
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Message 4: Re: 4.274 Rude negators

Date: Thu, 15 Apr 93 15:31:47 +0Re: 4.274 Rude negators
From: "James M. Scobbie" <>
Subject: Re: 4.274 Rude negators

As well as "bullshit he did" form, there's the inverted "did he
bullshit" form,
e.g. "did he fuck" (though "the fuck he did").

A: I saw you!
B: Did you hell/fuck/shite.
 The hell/fuck you did.

It must be that CLS time of year.
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