LINGUIST List 4.283

Wed 21 Apr 1993

Disc: Rude negation

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. Knud Lambrecht, Re: 4.278 Rude Negation
  2. Caoimhin P. ODonnaile, Re: Rude negators
  3. "Don W.", Rude negation query
  4. Gavin Burnage, More bollocks
  5. RichardHudson50, Us and US
  6. Nicholas Ostler, 4.277 Sum: Rude Negation

Message 1: Re: 4.278 Rude Negation

Date: Fri, 16 Apr 93 21:04:13 -0Re: 4.278 Rude Negation
From: Knud Lambrecht <>
Subject: Re: 4.278 Rude Negation

Re: Dick Hudson's question Q1 "If (104) are grammatical, they must be
generated by a grammar. How, given that they don't have canonical sentence
structures with verbs etc.?

I don't have an answer to the question, but I'd like to advertise a
hitherto in my opinion not sufficiently known fact, i.e. that there's a
bunch of linguists, led by Chuck Fillmore at Berkeley (they include Paul
Kay, Cathy O'Connor, Adele Koenig, Jean-Pierre Koenig, Laura Michaelis,
myself and others) who've spent the past, oh, ten years or so trying to
come up with a theory or framework whose purpose it is precisely to answer
this sort of question and, in doing so, answer all other questions of
syntax-semantics-pragmatics at the same time (the idea being that, if
such complicated "non-canonical" sentences can be accounted for by a
theory, then the well-known rest will automatically follow - hence our
interest in such weird constructions). It's called "Construction
Grammar". It's a theory in which the grammatical construction, together
with the word, is the basic unit of linguistic description, and where
any relationships between two or more constructions (formal, semantic,
pragmatic) are captured by postulating inheritance relations from one
construction to the other. I haven't thought much about the "The hell
he dit" - construction but I'm sure many Berkeley- and other crazy
California-infected brains (lik mine) are already working on a formal
description of it, or will be soon.

To do a little more, and even more obnoxious, advertising, I have a
paper in BLS 90 on what Akmajian called the "Mad Magazine" sentence,
in which I try to show that the way Adrian thought sentences like "What
me worry?", "Him, a doctor" etc. could be generated--i.e. with existing
very simple phrase structure rules (in this case the rule that also
generates imperatives) and a neat universal theory of speech acts to weed
out undesirable formations--doesn't work, and that instead this construction
needs to be described for itself, but with formal, semantic, and pragmatic
inheritance relations with other constructions (except that in 1990
I didn't know about `inheritance' yet so didn't use the fancy term).

I would be delighted if Dick Hudson's theoretical questions gave rise
to a debate on the theoretical relevance of crazy constructions like the
one so many linguists (perhaps for not quite licit reasons) sent in their
comments about.

Knud Lambrecht
UT Austin
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Message 2: Re: Rude negators

Date: Thu, 15 Apr 93 17:28:07 BSRe: Rude negators
From: Caoimhin P. ODonnaile <>
Subject: Re: Rude negators

The book "Modern Irish: Grammatical structure and dialectal variation"
by Micheal O Siadhail has a section on
"Diabhal 'devil' etc. as a syntactic device" for marking negatives.

 Kevin Donnelly
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Message 3: Rude negation query

Date: Sat, 17 Apr 1993 03:12:31 Rude negation query
From: "Don W." <webbdCCVAX.CCS.CSUS.EDU>
Subject: Rude negation query

In the lists of rude negators I've seen a lot of "bullshit"
but no "horseshit." Can anyone tell me what the difference is?
Regional or diachronic? And is "chicken-shit" ever used other
than adjectivally?

Interestingly, "bullshit" can be abbreviated to "bull" and
"chicken-shit" to "chicken," as in "I want out of this chicken
outfit" ("Outfit" = a military or, by extension, any other
group, not a suit worn by a baseball mascot), however,
"horseshit" cannot be abbreviated to "horse."

*"Pigshit," as far as I know, does not exist as a rude negator.
The closest I can come to it is "pigfart," an adjective denoting
a methane-fueled engine.

I'm out of animals, for the moment.

Don W. (DonWebbCSUS.Edu)
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Message 4: More bollocks

Date: Sat, 17 Apr 1993 16:30:04 More bollocks
From: Gavin Burnage <>
Subject: More bollocks

Richard Hudson's queries about the use of "bollocks" as a negator has
had me searching some of the new transcribed spoken material currently
coming into the British National Corpus. From the first one million
words of transcribed conversations (recorded by volunteers carrying
walkmans around with them in their daily activities), I found no
occurrences of the "bollocks he did" and similar negatives, but I did
find a few instances of bollocks adapted in another way. With -ed on
the end it is used as a straightforward past tense verb or past
participle/adjective with a variety of vaguely negative meanings:

(1) get wrong:

<u id=D0498 who=W0000> Well you bollocksed that didn't you?

(2) told off:

<u id=D0699 who=W0000> You haven't got them? Where are they?
<u id=D0700 who=W0008> Probably at home, I got bollocksed for having
them last night as well.

(3) tired:

<u id=D0017 who=W0000> <unclear> no, we'll leave this on. <pause>
I thought we'd be too bollocksed by the time we get up there anyway.

Although there's no BNC evidence of it yet (we have another 9 million
words due for transcription so it may yet happen), I've heard "balls"
adapted in a similar way -- "ballsed up" means "got wrong" as in (1)

Finally, an example of bollocks as a regular noun. I enclose it by
way of cautionary advice for visitors to Britain worried about the
finer points of etiquette and social manners in our public houses:

<u id=D0055 who=W0012> I think people who drink from the bottle want
their bollocks chopped off.


Gavin Burnage
British National Corpus
Oxford University Computing Services
13 Banbury Road 0865-273280 (work)
OXFORD OX2 6NN 0865-273275 (fax)
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Message 5: Us and US

Date: Mon, 19 Apr 93 20:33:54 +0Us and US
From: RichardHudson50 <>
Subject: Us and US

One interesting by-product of the recent debate about negatives like
THE HELL is that I've just been told that the word RUDE is understood
differently in the USA from the way we take it here. For us, it can
mean simply `impolite, rough', as in "a rude joke"; or it can mean
`insulting', as in "He was rude to me". But in USA it can only have
the second of these two meanings. When I called BOLLOCKS a `rude
negative', I meant it (of course) in the first sense, which must have
caused a good deal of confusion across the Atlantic. A nice example of
Bill Labov's point of some decades ago: that semantic variation is far
more prevalent than we think.

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 6: 4.277 Sum: Rude Negation

Date: Sat, 17 Apr 1993 20:21 CET4.277 Sum: Rude Negation
From: Nicholas Ostler <>
Subject: 4.277 Sum: Rude Negation

Just a minor addendum. I shouldn't think there's any problem with the
-ock of "bollock". Cf. hillock, bullock. It's recognized by Onions in
the Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology as a diminutive, though most
of his other examples (tussock, mattack, ruddock...) are no longer related
to any independent noun.
Nicholas Ostler
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