totally (was Re: "all" = very; quite)

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Wed Oct 19 22:23:32 UTC 2005

On Wed, 19 Oct 2005 14:06:55 -0700, Arnold M. Zwicky wrote:

>by the way, TOTALLY, which obviously started out as a totality
>adverb, has fairly recently picked up a simple reinforcer use/
>meaning, too.

I see the latest OED additions include this sense:

totally, adv.
colloq. (orig. and chiefly U.S.). In weakened use, as an intensifier:
(modifying an adjective) very, extremely; (modifying a verb) definitely,
1972 Screw 29 May 33/2 (advt.) A totally dominant English massage by a
lovely female, in your home or office. a1978 J. CARPENTER Halloween (film
script) 20 You totally never showed up. 1981 Washington Post 8 Oct. B1/1
Scott Wallace is padded and pumped... Awesome, man, totally awesome. 1994
A. HECKERLING Clueless (film script) Green Revised Pages 1, I live in
Beverly Hills with my father, who's a totally prominent attorney. 2004
Chicago Tribune (Midwest ed.) 11 Jan. XIII. 3/1 Dude, I had to give her my
seat. She totally reminded me of my mom!

Not yet included in the entry, however, is intensive TOTALLY used as a
postmodifier -- either as an interjectional term of agreement or
immediately following a clause. Here are a few early examples from
interviews in the "Rock's Backpages" database...

International Times, 17 May 1968
[Mick Jagger interviewed by Barry Miles]
MJ: "If they had no police there, there wouldn't be any trouble. Not
because the police make trouble, because they are more brutal or...or you
know, all the reasons which are true, you know they are, etc. But that's
not really the reason that there's trouble, it's just cause they're there.
It's the only symbol there. It's the only outlet you can get, especially
in the Western world, you can't really touch anything can you? What can
you touch? You can only touch the police."
M: "Do you think that's a short-circuiting?"
MJ: "Yeah, totally, and they know it, and that's why it doesn't make any
Outlaw Blues, 1971
[David Anderle interviewed by Paul Williams]
We started off very conscious of what we were doing, looking at each other
and very embarrassed, and it then he just drove us into it, totally.
ZigZag, July 1971
[Kevin Coyne interviewed by John Tobler]
Winwood knocked me out... totally... but I can't say the same for him now
I'm afraid.

--Ben Zimmer

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