"being have"

Arnold Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Thu Sep 6 18:30:34 UTC 2001

From: Lynne Murphy <lynnem at COGS.SUSX.AC.UK>

 >--the mother said the kid wouldn't get any treats at grandma's
 >if the kid didn't start 'being have'...

this reinterpretation of "behave" has been reported often.  it
appears in a list of "analogical creations" by children in
hockett's A Course in Modern Linguistics (1958), p. 425: "When
told _You must behave_, a child may reply _I'm being haive_."
(i believe the child in question was hockett's daughter.)

over the years, i've heard about such reinterpretations made
by maybe a dozen different children, from various parts of the
english-speaking world, from both linguists and non-linguists.
in some cases, the idiom BE HAIVE became part of a "family language",
but i haven't seen reports of it spreading beyond small groups.

surely, this is just something that's going to be invented again
and again, independently.

[from George Thompson <george.thompson at NYU.EDU>:]

  >> I recently heard a record made in the mid 1920s by the vocalist
  >> Hociel Thomas, called either "Go On, I Told You" or "What I Told
  >> You".  The song celebrates the esprit of a cake-walking baby and
  >> contains the following couplet:
  >>     She came in on the Charleston wave,
  >>     What I told you, she just won't have.
  >> This is probably available on CD, since Thomas is backed by Louis
  >> Armstrong.  I have an Armstrong discography somewhere, which, if
  >> I could find it, would give the correct title and the date of
  >> recording.  But in any event, the thought that the command
  >> "behave!"  = "be have!"  is at least 70 years old.

[lynne murphy again:]

 >But there's no 'be' there--so I don't think this is a case of 'to be
 >have' at all.  It's just a case of creative rhyming of the word
 >'have'.  Just like when American singers say 'a-gain' to rhyme with
 >'rain' or 'been' to rhyme with 'seen'.

this seems dubious.  AGAIN rhyming with RAIN and BEEN rhyming with
SEEN are well attested in varieties of english, so there's some basis
for the rhyming conventions, even for speakers who don't have these
pronunciations.  but HAVE rhyming with WAVE has no such basis, so
far as i know; it would be purely an eye rhyme.

on the other hand, "won't ha(i)ve" as an extension of "be ha(i)ve"
would take quite a story.  how would the "ha(i)ve" of "be ha(i)ve"
get reinterpreted as a *verb*, which is what's needed for "won't

an alternative is that the song should be transcribed as
  What I told you, she just won't 'have.
(with a foreshortened occurrence of "behave"; such clippings are
very common - "'cause" for "because", "'fore" for "before", etc.,
though i haven't checked for other instances of "'ha(i)ve" -
and the meaning of "behave" would fit the song vastly better than
the meaning of "have").

arnold (zwicky at csli.stanford.edu)

More information about the Ads-l mailing list