Same sound, opposite meaning

Mark A Mandel mam at THEWORLD.COM
Sun May 12 16:04:36 UTC 2002

On Sun, 12 May 2002, sagehen wrote:

# *Squat* seems to be another Janus word.  I always thought of it and
#*diddly* & *diddly squat* as meaning /nothing/  or /less-than-nothing/, but
#kept encountering them in contexts where /anything/  was clearly intended.
#Looked up *squat* in the Oxford Dict. of Mod. Slang (no entry for *diddly*)
#and found _both_ meanings given.  "Didn't do diddly squat for us" still
#sounds like a double negative to me.

"He did diddly-squat / fuck-all for us" = "He didn't do anything for us"
= "He did nothing for us." The fact that you can observe also "He didn't
do diddly-squat for us", imho, is on a par with "I could / couldn't care

What's crucial about the idiom is that the "(less than) nothing" meaning
is inherent in the lexical item, the idiom chunk "care less" or
"diddly-squat" or "fuck-all" ("bugger-all" if you're English), not in
the presence or absence of a traditional negator.

If these were Janus words like "cleave", you'd expect "He did squat for
us" and "He didn't do squat for us" to have opposite meanings, at least
in some cases. But they don't; they *always* mean the same.

-- Mark A. Mandel

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