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F*** Lyndon Johnson and wash the dishes.
November 12, 2010 5:53 AM   Subscribe

English sentences without overt grammatical subjects. SLTF (Single link text file). NSFW (not even remotely). Via.
posted by notsnot (68 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
MetaFilter: *Assert you.
posted by Wolfdog at 5:55 AM on November 12, 2010


I thought the AskMe was the wrong place to say this, but I disagree with one of the assertions. I'm pretty sure I've used sentence 22 with roommates.

Fuck you and wash the dishes.
posted by solotoro at 5:58 AM on November 12, 2010 [9 favorites]


*Hooray for an irregular verb last night.

wat
posted by jquinby at 6:00 AM on November 12, 2010


The process toward everything I have ever accomplished has been summed up by four words in this article:

Fuck!
Damn!
Shit!
Hooray!
posted by griphus at 6:01 AM on November 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


N (even remotely) SFW

This attempt at a warning actually gave me false information. I parsed it as 3 things at first, one of which told me it was "SFW". How about just "NSFW"?
posted by DU at 6:02 AM on November 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


So they've never heard of the word "yourself" in Hanoi?
posted by Gator at 6:03 AM on November 12, 2010


Metafilter: Fuck all irregular verbs.
posted by liza at 6:07 AM on November 12, 2010


Fuck Lyndon Johnson or I'll take away your teddy-bear.

Boy, if I had a nickle every time I said THAT.
posted by SPUTNIK at 6:07 AM on November 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


Forbidden

You don't have permission to access /QUANG.html on this server.

Additionally, a 403 Forbidden error was encountered while trying to use an ErrorDocument to handle the request.
posted by pracowity at 6:09 AM on November 12, 2010


Please fuck Lyndon Johnson.
posted by Beardman at 6:12 AM on November 12, 2010


The fact that sentences of the form fuck2 plus NP are not known to be validly analyzable as NP + VP in deep structure, the fact that they are not embeddable in any sentences, and the fact that they allow none of the adjuncts which all other sentences allow, makes highly plausible the hypothesis that they should not even be analyzed as sentences--that the category "utterance" be divided into two subcategories, "sentence" and "epithet" (the latter class including utterances such as (2), (46) and (64)), that only "sentence" and not "epithet" be embeddable within an utterance, that "epithet" involve a lexical category of "quasi-verbs" (this category consisting of fuck2, shit on, etc.), that there be a phrase-structure rule
Epithet --> Quasi-verb NP
and that "Quasi-verb" appear in no other phrase-structure rule.
So here's how language evolves from monkey screeches. Screech -> "pure" epithet -> quasi-verb epithet -> real verbs.
posted by DU at 6:14 AM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Safe at my work! (Computational linguistics ftw)
posted by willF at 6:19 AM on November 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


If this is NSFW, then so is Metafilter, in which case WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE.
posted by swift at 6:21 AM on November 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Authored by Quang Phuc Dong of the South Hanoi Institute of Technology.
posted by Wet Spot at 6:24 AM on November 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


The back story on this and it's author is really quite amazing. Thanks!
posted by Ahab at 6:27 AM on November 12, 2010


I parsed it as 3 things at first, one of which told me it was "SFW"

Fuck parsing or I'll take away your teddy-bear.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 6:30 AM on November 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


Seriously, how is this NSFW? Because it's full of swears? On preview, as swift said - so is just about every Metafilter comment thread. Uh oh.
posted by antifuse at 6:31 AM on November 12, 2010


Yeah. Gamahuche that shit.
posted by Ahab at 6:34 AM on November 12, 2010


FUCK! (nsfw)
posted by arveale at 6:38 AM on November 12, 2010


Lonnie Chu has some interesting links.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 6:45 AM on November 12, 2010


Seriously, how is this NSFW?

Because it's so much better when you read it aloud.
posted by straight at 6:46 AM on November 12, 2010


...and the history of this link:

Dick Molitor, linguist (really!), mentor, and the person who supplied me with a paper copy of “…OVERT GRAMMATICAL SUBJECTS” years ago when we shared an office, and then the electronic version which is in the page linked above. Now… do you really want to know any more about him?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 6:49 AM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's NSFW because I went into a laughing fit when reading it and the boss was like, "Fuck you and download those files!"
posted by notsnot at 6:50 AM on November 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


While it will offer only a tentative conjecture as to what the deep structure of sentences such as (2) is, it will at least demonstrate conclusively that they are not imperatives.

Now I'm curious, what are they?
posted by scottreynen at 6:50 AM on November 12, 2010


Now I'm curious, what are they?

Interjections. Didn't you watch Schoolhouse Rock?

Fuck!
Damn!
Shit!
Hooray! (I'm for the other team!)
posted by The Bellman at 6:54 AM on November 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: Fuck you or I'll take away your teddy-bear.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 6:54 AM on November 12, 2010


Fuck computational linguistics.
posted by Omission at 7:02 AM on November 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: Not Safe For Work
posted by madred at 7:13 AM on November 12, 2010


All jokes aside, that was a good read. I never really thought through the idea that epithets weren't verbs, but it makes sense. In some ways, "fuck" behaves like "thank," but that similarity broke down by about (30).

One thing I am curious about, though, is the assetion at the end:

I know of no non-ad-hoc treatment of the stress difference between
(78) Fuck you.
(79) Damn you.


Is the difference he means that (79) has a more even stress between the two words? In both cases, there's the interesting quirk that an in-kind response would just shift more stress to the noun/object.

Wet Spot: Authored by Quang Phuc Dong of the South Hanoi Institute of Technology.

Yeah, obvio. From the addendum: ["Quang Phuc Dong" is a nom de guerre (linguistique) not of Ross but of James D. McCawley, who "created the interdisciplinary field of pornolinguistics and scatolinguistics virtually on his own" (Zwicky, viii).]

I would like to further fund those fields of study.
posted by kittyprecious at 7:19 AM on November 12, 2010


I'm considering taking this into my Traditional English Grammar Class next week. Looking at taboo language is as interesting to me as studying the "traditional". When I was a kid my mom had the Maledicta journals on our bookshelf. I never could understand why she didn't hide them since they were quite clearly a compendium of everything I wasn't allowed to say in polite company. When I finally asked her about it she said "Words are beautiful even when they're dirty."
posted by madred at 7:33 AM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hooray for Christine Keeler!
posted by jenkinsEar at 8:02 AM on November 12, 2010


I would like to further fund those fields of study.

You may be able to do so by purchasing Studies Out in Left Field: Defamatory Essays Presented to James D. McCawley on the Occasion of His 33rd or 34th Birthday. Unfortunately McCawley himself has returned to the deep structure whence he came, but perhaps your purchase would show that there is still interest.

I really want to read the Ross/Gamahuche essay mentioned at the end:
Ross, under the name "E. Clifton Gamahuche", took the first and only steps towards developing metapornolinguistics, with his "Conjunctive Ordering" (where, among other observations, he notes that in the absence of Copula agreement, the only option is Reflexivization).
McCawley's Eater's Guide to Chinese Characters is reportedly quite worthy too.
posted by kenko at 8:30 AM on November 12, 2010


This paper served me in good stead recently when I tried to quarrel with the Chicago Manual of Style's deliverances in its November Q&A ("tried" because no one took me up on it). Someone wanted, absurdly, to change "Go Giants!" to "Go, Giants!".
posted by kenko at 8:33 AM on November 12, 2010


fucking love MeFi
exactly for posts and comment chains like this. genius and hilarious.
posted by TMezz at 8:38 AM on November 12, 2010


So they've never heard of the word "yourself" in Hanoi?

In "fuck yourself", "yourself" is not the subject. (It seems to need a "go" in the front to me, but that wouldn't make "yourself" the subject.)
posted by kenko at 8:41 AM on November 12, 2010


I think I agree with most of the assertions here, but I would object to the claim "they are not embeddable in any sentences". Consider "If that's the case, then fuck you!" or But I'm not sure what it is about this particular construction makes it so different than many of the other ways in which "fuck you" can't be embedded. *"Fuck you and wash the dishes" may be ungrammatical, but "Fuck you, and fuck Lyndon Johnson" is just fine. Some corpus searching leads me to some more embeddings of "Fuck you": "Yeah, and fuck you too!", "Fuck you if you can't understand me", "Fuck you for pulling this shit in my house", "Thanks, Hugo, and fuck you, Stimmler", "Don't quote me on this, but fuck you", "Fuck you to hell", "Fuck you again", "Fuck you twice", "Fuck you sideways", "Fuck you back" (in response to "fuck you" from someone else), and many others. Some of these seem to be rare whimsical formations based on the similarity to other phrases like "Fuck you very much" (based on similarity to "thank you"), but I left out ones that were obviously mentions (e.g. "Tell him fuck you for me" and "Can I get a fuck you") or referring to copulation. Perhaps there's another analysis here that accounts for constructions like this. There's not much that you can do with "Fuck you" as far as embedding it into other phrases, but I wouldn't go quite as far as Mr Dong has. What other examples of embedding with "Fuck you" and the like can you think of?

I too had wondered about how this relates to social niceties, but as kittyprecious notes, "thank you" is not a great example of this because it can easily be analyzed as a verb phrase with elided subject "I" (as in "I whole-heartedly thank you" or "I thank each one of you"). But note that the explicit subject seems to be required; *"Whole-heartedly thank you" and *"Thank each one of you" are not grammatical.¹ So maybe there is something there.

On a different note, while I'm sure this is an issue well-discussed in the linguistic world, it had never occurred to me that there could be an imperative with a subject (explicit or otherwise) other than "you". But thinking about "God damn you," (which isn't quite the same as the "Goddamn you" discussed in this paper) made me realize that it's quite possible: "The Devil take you", "God save the Queen", etc. In cases like "Mr Gorbechav, tear down this wall", I had always analyzed this as a change of addressee followed by the usual second-person imperative. As evidence that this is still the right way to think about it, look at the ungrammatical *"Devil, take you" and *"God, bless you", which would have to be "Devil, take him/her" and "God, bless him/her", even if you were still talking "to" the target of the taking or blessing. Heck, you can even use the passive voice in an imperative: "Heavens be praised!"² Anyone have any examples of non-second-person imperatives where the subject isn't a religious figure?


On preview³: kenko brings up a fascinating and potentially related set of constructions. But I think "Go Giants!" grammatically analyzes in the same way as "Go, Giants!" does. The comma seems wrong because as a simple, two-word phrase that gets shouted repeatedly and rapidly, the comma seems to indicate a vocal pause that would subtly color the connotations differently. I think it's only the punctuation that's in flux here, and not the grammar. When I think about the (to me) closely related "You go girl!" vs "You go, girl!", which doesn't quite have the same arena-chanting connotations, I'm much more inclined to want the comma (but it still doesn't quite seem mandatory to me).

¹I just had this idea, but perhaps a better analysis of "Fuck you" is not an imperative with implicit subject "you", but a declarative with implicit subject "I". Under this analysis, "Fuck you" should be read not like "You go fuck yourself" but rather like "I bite my thumb at you". On further thought, there are still all the screwy oddities about where the result can be embedded, but it does account for why we use "you" instead of "yourself".

²Perhaps there's another analysis here, but the imperative feels right for me here.

³ Look! I actually did preview this time! Anyone get the impression that Metafilter commenters have slowly morphed from prefacing follow-up comments with jokey references to not-previewing like "On non-preview" to just using "On preview" as a generic preface to follow-ups, even when the commenter very clearly did not preview!

posted by ErWenn at 8:52 AM on November 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


Um, this concept is "implied subject". Been around forever.
posted by grubi at 9:19 AM on November 12, 2010


This is what you get when your language has no grammar to speak of: In Greek, it is always clear who is fucking whom: γαμώ το σπίτι σου (I'm fucking your house), γάμησέ τα και άφησέ τα (fuck it and let it go), δε μας γαμάς (why don't you fuck us) or να πας να γαμηθείς (go and get fucked ).
posted by Dr Dracator at 9:37 AM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I would say that to really unravel and savor the spendor of "Fuck you!" we should look first at "Damn you!". Who does the damning here? It's God, of course. Damn you is a subjunctive phrase, like "God save the Queen." The "that" at the beginning has been lost somewhere, but it's still a fragmentary subjunctive phrase.

So, who does the fucking? It's God, and as anybody who has read the old testament can attest - he will fuck you if he's angry.

Here's the long form: "I sincerely desire, from the bottom of my soul, that God fuck you, and fuck you utterly!"
posted by Steakfrites at 9:44 AM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Um, this concept is "implied subject". Been around forever.

Uh, maybe you should read the document before you comment on it?
posted by mr_roboto at 9:53 AM on November 12, 2010


So, who does the fucking? It's God, and as anybody who has read the old testament can attest - he will fuck you if he's angry.

OK, so this is totally handled in the document as well. Christ, people.
posted by mr_roboto at 9:55 AM on November 12, 2010


OK, guilty. I stopped reading after the first page. Fuck me.
posted by Steakfrites at 10:08 AM on November 12, 2010


But thinking about "God damn you," (which isn't quite the same as the "Goddamn you" discussed in this paper) made me realize that it's quite possible: "The Devil take you", "God save the Queen", etc.

In those cases, though, each of those statements begins with an implicit "may." The modality is a form of urging or request (it's not exactly permission, as Wikipedia would have it). I don't know why, but it feels different from subjunctive mood to me. Wow, I'm out of practice at this.

Dammit.
posted by kittyprecious at 10:37 AM on November 12, 2010


(12) *I said to fuck you.
(13) *Don't fuck you.
(14) *Do fuck you.
(15) *Please fuck you.
(16) *Fuck you, won't you?
(17) *Go fuck you.
(18) *Fuck you or I'll take away your teddy-bear.
(19) *Fuck you and I'll give you a dollar.
(21) *Wash the dishes and fuck you.
(22) *Fuck you and wash the dishes.


Hahaha, this had me LOLing. Gonna have to try and use these some time.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 11:06 AM on November 12, 2010


Ah this is a good time to remind everybody about The Fucking Test! Don't know where the stress is in your polysyllabic bon mot? Insert fucking and all's well that fucking ends well.

(Use with abso-fucking-lute caution, as stress always precedes fucking.*)

*Fucking insertion only works in English.
posted by iamkimiam at 11:22 AM on November 12, 2010


Steven Pinker's contention (in The Stuff Of Thought, if I remember correctly) was that "Damn you (and Lyndon Johnson, and these irregular verbs)" is the original, more grammatically logical / parseable form, but as "damn" lost its punch as a curse word people started substituting in "fuck" without regard for semantics or logic.

The article point out that "Damn you and wash the dishes" or "God damn you and wash the dishes" aren't good sentences either, but if you suppose that the original form is "may God damn you" then it basically works.
posted by Jeanne at 11:48 AM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Could someone explain to me how a page containing curse words is NSFW? I mean, it's NSFYourBossCarefullyReadingTheScreenOverYourShoulder, perhaps (perhaps), but it's not exactly the script to Behind the Green Door, is it?

If it's NSFW, isn't pretty much any forum page?

("Fuck", BTW). (<--NSFW Comment!!!)
posted by IAmBroom at 11:53 AM on November 12, 2010


LOLZFUCK
posted by Bovine Love at 11:56 AM on November 12, 2010


Ah yes... Quang Phuc Dong of the S.H.I.T. Know him well (and NOT in the biblical sense).

... not that there's anything WRONG with that!
posted by Mike D at 12:02 PM on November 12, 2010


fuck this
posted by victors at 12:22 PM on November 12, 2010


said lovingly
posted by victors at 12:23 PM on November 12, 2010


Like Steakfrites and kittyprecious, I'd always thought of "Fuck you!" as being subjunctive, in the sense of exhorting or desiring something to happen, which sounds weird because it's mostly disappeared from English. Quang (or McCawley) argues that there isn't an implicit subject of God, but I don't think there has to be. I can say, "May my enemies be confused and stupid!" without implicitly asking for God to do the confusing and stupefying.
posted by hattifattener at 12:33 PM on November 12, 2010


Right: but could you phrase that as "Confuse my enemies!" — meaning it, not as a command or a request to God or some helpful ally, but just as a declaration of your feelings?

An even closer parallel: I can say "May you be confused," but "Confuse you!" sounds flat out wrong. Same goes for "Annoy you!" or "Hate you!" or "Give you a wedgie!"

There's still something going on here that "damn" and "fuck" participate in but other verbs don't.
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:57 PM on November 12, 2010


I'm glad to see this on the blue! When I posted it to AskMe I was wondering what people would think of it, but of course the green isn't the place for that sort of conversation. Also, to give due credit (as languagehat pointed out I forgot to do there), I'll note that the author is a real linguist: James McCawley.
posted by forza at 1:20 PM on November 12, 2010


This is what all academic writing should be. Fuck my day job.
posted by scratch at 1:51 PM on November 12, 2010


kittyprecious, I think the "stress" issue you mention has to do with the tendency of English speakers to say:

(78) Fuck you.
(79) Damn you.

And all the author is saying is that he can't account for the difference in stress placement.


On a different note, my ear finds a lot of the acceptable utterances also acceptable if the implied subject is "somebody" or "everybody" (and to a lesser extent "nobody", but not "anybody"). Try it:

Somebody fuck these seven irregular verbs.
Everybody fuck irregular verbs.
*Anybody fuck irregular verbs
Everybody fuck any old lady you see.
Nobody fuck any old old lady you see.
Somebody fuck my sister on the sofa.
*Anybody fuck my sister on the sofa.
posted by etc. at 1:57 PM on November 12, 2010


Fuck me.
posted by Splunge at 2:43 PM on November 12, 2010


If it's true that: as "damn" lost its punch as a curse word people started substituting in "fuck" without regard for semantics or logic.

The differing stress in "damn you" vs. "fuck you" could then be accounted for by the loss of a need to emphasize the now missing semantics (or logic).
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:11 PM on November 12, 2010


The article point out that "Damn you and wash the dishes" or "God damn you and wash the dishes" aren't good sentences either, but if you suppose that the original form is "may God damn you" then it basically works.

"May God damn you and wash the dishes!"

I say this all the time, but they just keep piling up in the sink.
posted by vytae at 7:11 PM on November 12, 2010


On preview³: kenko brings up a fascinating and potentially related set of constructions. But I think "Go Giants!" grammatically analyzes in the same way as "Go, Giants!" does. The comma seems wrong because as a simple, two-word phrase that gets shouted repeatedly and rapidly, the comma seems to indicate a vocal pause that would subtly color the connotations differently. I think it's only the punctuation that's in flux here, and not the grammar. When I think about the (to me) closely related "You go girl!" vs "You go, girl!", which doesn't quite have the same arena-chanting connotations, I'm much more inclined to want the comma (but it still doesn't quite seem mandatory to me).

Here's the context, if you're curious. The Question and Answer from the CMOS Q&A were:
Q. The way sports writers and fans write the hortatory phrase “Go Giants!” (my home team, and no reflection on them) drives me nuts. Shouldn’t it be “Go, Giants”? It’s direct address, after all, and there is a vast difference between the two commands “Kill Bill!” and “Kill, Bill!” The athletic directors whose columns I’ve edited just scoff that it’s accepted “sports English” to write “Go Bears/Giants/Frogs!” but I just “go bananas.”

A. Ah, sports English. Yes, that’s what it is, and there’s probably no fighting it, although as an editor you are justified in inserting the comma.
And here's what I posted to the CMOS (wait for it) facebook page:
I don't see why "Go Giants!" is called "sports English"; one wouldn't say the same thing of the hortatory "go" in "go tell it on the mountain" or "go kill Bill" (or "go Bill" during Bill's dissertation defense). The hortatory purpose of "go..." isn't (presently, though perhaps not historically [nb pdf link]) to exhort the entity addressed to *go*, the way "kill, Bill!" exhorts Bill to kill, it is, in the latter examples, to exhort the addressee to tell it on the mountain or to kill Bill, respectively. In "Go Giants!" as well the sense hardly seems to be an exhortation to go, such as "Go, Giants!" would convey, and it's far from obvious (to me) that the former even directly addresses the Giants, rather than wishes that they might do well. (I can easily imagine saying "Go Giants!" by way of exchanging greetings with a fellow Giants fan, while "Kick their asses back to Texas, Giants!" would not be suitable.)

That there is a world of difference between the commands "Kill Bill!" and "Kill, Bill!" is only relevant if "Go Giants!" is also a command (or exhortation) to go. But not everything with surface imperatival or hortatory form is such a command (exhortation). There is also a world of difference between "Fuck Lyndon Johnson!" and "Fuck, Lyndon Johnson!" (ex. from the eye-opening "English Sentences without Overt Grammatical Subjects") but that is not because the former is a command that the addressee should copulate with LJ while the latter is a command that LJ should copulate---in all circumstances, anyway; the former certainly *could* be used that way and the latter might simply be an expostulation occasioned by LJ. We leave such subtleties to the side; the point is that "Fuck Lyndon Johnson!" needn't be a command or exhortation involving *actual fucking* at all, just as "Go Giants!" needn't be a command or exhortation for anyone, even the Giants, to *go*.
posted by kenko at 8:41 PM on November 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


etc.: I find myself caught between yelling "fuck you" sotto voce in my bedroom on Saturday morning and wanting to look up a representative sample of film clips, since my instinct would be to say the emphasis is much stronger on the first word and it only becomes "Fuck you" as a response, and now I feel like a gibbering language-robot.
posted by kittyprecious at 6:40 AM on November 13, 2010


On a different note, my ear finds a lot of the acceptable utterances also acceptable if the implied subject is "somebody" or "everybody" (and to a lesser extent "nobody", but not "anybody").

I think this says more about "anybody" than it does about "fuck."
Somebody bring me a beer.
*Anybody bring me a beer.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:52 AM on November 13, 2010


True, but what I'm getting at is that the missing subject of these utterances--elsewhere suggested to be "god," but proven otherwise--could very sensibly be "somebody" in most cases. It doesn't solve everything, but works in a lot of cases. For example:

Fuck you.
*Fuck himself.
*Fuck themselves.

Somebody fuck you.
*Somebody fuck himself.
*Somebody fuck themselves.
posted by etc. at 8:21 AM on November 14, 2010


Ah, I get it. Yeah.

(Though I'd argue that "fuck that guy" and "somebody fuck that guy" don't mean the same thing. To me, "somebody fuck that guy" only has the "fuck my sister on the sofa" reading.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:37 AM on November 14, 2010


Fucking genius, thanks so fucking much for posting this!
posted by rudster at 1:48 PM on November 14, 2010


nebulawindphone, the beauty of a discussion such as this--one of the many beaties, actually--is the invention of new epithets. The next time I am involved in a verbal altercation and there are onlookers, I am going to turn to the bystanders and say, "Somebody fuck that guy!"

Thanks for that one.

And the next time I am frustrated or surprised I'm going to cry out, "Fuck my sister on the sofa!"
posted by etc. at 8:20 AM on November 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is she nice?

Also, is your sofa comfy?
posted by Dr Dracator at 8:25 AM on November 15, 2010


Yes, she is nice. And, yes, the sofa is...wait...it was just a figure of speech.

Man, I'm having a difficult time getting my points across in this thread.
posted by etc. at 7:20 PM on November 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


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