Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Mon Oct 7 19:19:29 UTC 2002

At 2:51 PM -0400 10/7/02, Mandy Adkins wrote:
>Here's one for ya.  My Gramma says, "That ain't worth diddley squat."
>Where did 'diddley squat' come from?

First cite in RHHDAS:

She ain't never had nothin'-not eben doodly-squat, and when she gits
uh chance tuh git holt uh sumpin de ole buzzard is gone on uh rampage.
                 (Zora Neale Hurston (1934), Jonah's Gourd Vine,
cited in OED entry)

Lots of other examples from Nexis are discussed in my paper:
Flaubert Triggers, Squatitive Negation, and Other Quirks of Grammar
  (in J. Hoeksema et al., eds., Perspectives on Negation and Polarity
Items, 173-200.  Amsterdam:  John Benjamins)

Among other things, I discuss both "licensed" squatitives (That ain't
worth doodly-squat/shit/fuck-all/...), which are analogous to
negative concord constructions in languages like Spanish and Italian
("Non ho visto niente") or non-standard English ("I didn't see
nothing"), and "unlicensed" squatitives (You know
doodly-squat/fuck-all about it), which are more like negative
polarity items in English ("I didn't see anything").  In both cases,
"doodly-squat" and its analogues represent minimal entities on some
scale, or "minimizers", as Bolinger has called them.  We've discussed
this a bunch on the list, with lots of examples, especially


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