Squat - revisited

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Wed May 29 20:02:35 UTC 2002

At 7:52 AM -0400 5/28/02, Dennis R. Preston wrote:
>In my speech "squat" also means simply nothing, a rather obvious
>extension of the "worthless" sense of "shit."
>I went fishing and got shit/squat = nothing
>I went fishing and got shit/squat = nothing worth catching/keeping
>In fact, for me, the "nothing" reading is stronger for "squat."
It may be worth mentioning that the same is true for most people with "nothing"

I caught (or, for negative concord speakers, I didn't catch) nothing:

= 'nothing at all', or 'nothing worth catching'.

I don't think this is a special feature of the squatitives.  But
repeating what I said before, what makes the squatitives interesting
is that even speakers who don't normally get negative concord
typically get both licensed and unlicensed "squat", "shit", etc.,
with the same (negative) meaning:

I didn't get squat = I got squat = I got nothing (I didn't get anything).

The RHHDAS finesses this by having two entries for "squat" and its
relatives, one = 'nothing', one = 'anything'.  Not that all
squatitives are alike:  for me, "shit" and "squat" allow both forms,
but "zilch" only allows the non-licensed version:

He knows zilch [ = 'nothing'] about negative polarity.
*He doesn't know zilch [= 'anything'] about negative polarity.

Different speakers will differ on this.


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