-ing vs. -in' in expletives

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Thu Jul 22 18:05:00 UTC 2004

On Jul 22, 2004, at 6:44 AM, RonButters at AOL.COM wrote:

> Well, since -ing/-in' is variable, and since -ing tends to be used in
> formal
> situations, and since receiving an award is a rather formal situation,
> why
> couldn't -ing have been "spontaneous"?

i was taking as given the observation that the adverbial expletive is
almost always pronounced with final /n/; for vast numbers of people,
this version has been lexicalized, and they treat pronunciations with
/N/ as a kind of hypercorrection, and with derision (as characteristic
of non-native speakers or people who are "totally out of it", to quote
some college acquaintances of mine).  (the present participles of the
various verbs "fuck" haven't necessarily gone all the way down this

it is true that formal contexts favor /N/ over /n/ for present
participles, other things being equal.  but the other things include
the stylistic level of the verb itself (technical, formal, and
infrequent verbs favoring /N/, everyday, informal, and frequent verbs
facilitating /n/) and the speaker's presentation of self (as, say, a
serious authority vs. a regular guy -- correlations of /n/ with
masculinity and masculine self-presentations tend to be high).  so even
if bono had been uttering a verb (rather than an adverbial), these
factors would conspire to favor /n/ very heavily.  but in fact he was
uttering the adverbial expletive.

so i would have expected /n/, and my guess is that that's what he said
(but that reporters bizarrely "corrected" the spelling).  that's why i
asked if anyone had actually *heard* the event.

i thought this expectation was so strong that a pronunciation with /N/
would be very odd.  so i would at least consider a calculated use.  (an
entertainment awards ceremony is an odd mixture of formality and
informality, by the way, not a context where i'd expect bono to
hypercorrect to /N/ in "fuckin'".  but odd things do happen.)

arnold (zwicky at csli.stanford.edu)

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