Early Citations for "Cool"

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Sun Oct 2 22:30:39 UTC 2005

On 9/30/05, Arnold M. Zwicky <zwicky at csli.stanford.edu> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Arnold M. Zwicky" <zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: Early Citations for "Cool"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> On Sep 28, 2005, at 9:14 PM, Wilson Gray wrote:
> > Ben, WRT "... the peculiar cleft construction 'what make it so cool'
> > ...," what makes this construction so "peculiar" to you? I've used it
> > and its congeners just about since I've been able to speak what I
> > thought was English. Yet, somehow, the peculiarity of it has escaped
> > my notice over all these years...
> though it turns out that the peculiarity in question was this use of
> "cool" back in the 30s, i have a different interest in the
> construction, one that has nothing to do with "cool".  if i translate
> some superficial features of AAVE into the corresponding features of
> my variety, and allow alternatives to "cool", i get things like the
> following, which strike me as just fine:
>    What makes it so cool/neat/wild/amazing/great, he's going to look
> just like me.
>    ..., she's the sweetest wife God ever made.
> call this construction "WhatXS".
> for me, WhatXS is an is-less counterpart to an ordinary pseudocleft
> (note that i'm not otherwise a zero-copula person) --
>    What makes it so cool/etc. is (that) he's going to look just like me.
> or to a clearly paratactic "set-up + pay-off" construction, in which
> you announce that you're going to supply some information and then
> supply it:
>    Here's/That's/This is   what makes it so cool/etc.: he's going to
> look just like me.
>    This makes it so cool: he's going to look just like me.
> i'm not sure what the limits of WhatXS are for me.  examples with
> "so" in them are very very good, and perhaps that's because "so" + A
> can introduce a result clause (with or *without* "that"):
>    He's so cool, people think he must be a musician.
> so the question is, what's the status of things like the following?
>    What makes it cool, he's going to look just like me.
> for me, not as good as the version with "so", but i warm to it after
> a little acquaintance.  is i alter the prosody a bit, i get something
> i'd write with a colon instead of a comma, and it's fine:
>    What makes it cool: he's going to look just like me.
> things get worse with somewhat different initial clauses (ending in a
> pitch fall, indicated by a comma):
>    ??What I like, he's going to look just like me.
>    ??What amazes me, he's going to look just like me.
> though with level pitch (indicated by a colon), things are fine:
>    What I like: he's going to look just like me.
>    What amazes me: he's going to look just like me.
> i'm not sure what to make of these judgments.  maybe i'm just being
> finicky.
> for the AAVE variety represented by Hurston, though, the original
> examples are probably pseudoclefts with the zero copula of AAVE.  i
> assume that there are parallel examples not involving "cool" (in any
> sense) or result "so", things like the examples i'm (at the moment)
> less than fully happy about.
> there's a puzzle here, though.  in AAVE, the copula is not omissible
> in positions that would require it to bear some accent, and in my
> variety of english, Auxiliary Reduction is subject to the same
> condition.  but pseudoclefts have a light accent on the copula, which
> means that the copula (in pseudoclefts) isn't subject to reduction in
> AMZE --
>    *What makes it so cool's(,) he's going to look just like me.
>    *What I see's a sparrow.
> and shouldn't be omissible in AAVE.  that is, we predict (in AAVE):
>    *What makes it so cool(,) he's going to look just like me.
>    *What I see a sparrow.
> the first of these is attested, and sounds fine to wilson (and to me
> in AMZE, for that matter).  the second sounds pretty rotten to me,
> but then i'm not an AAVE speaker.

Yes, you are correct, arnold, about the first of these sentences being
okay. But the second one is just word salad, regardless of dialect,
I'd think.


> several possibilities for AAVE: (1) not all pseudoclefts get a light
> accent on the copula, or at least not all the time; (2) the accent
> constraint doesn't apply in pseudoclefts (this would predict "What I
> see a sparrow"); (3) the accent constraint doesn't apply in a
> definable subtype of pseudoclefts; (4) we're dealing with a special
> construction -- WhatXS -- that is just stipulated to have no copula
> (that is, things like the Hurston examples don't involve the zero-
> copula construction).
> for AMZE, which lacks a general zero-copula construction, it looks
> like (4) is the only way to go, though it's not clear what the
> constraints on WhatXS are.
> arnold (zwicky at csli.stanford.edu), getting a headache

-Wilson Gray

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