Sure don't

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Tue Jul 31 19:41:36 UTC 2007

At 2:20 PM -0500 7/31/07, Scot LaFaive wrote:
>I asked, "Do you have any maps?"  She said, "We sure don't."
>While reading some reports at work I came across this construction a few
>times. I'm familiar with using "sure" as an adverb when the answer is in the
>affirmative ("Yes, we sure do."), but not otherwise. The writer is probably
>an L2 speaker (her L1, if not English, would probably be Spanish). The
>supposed speaker of "We sure don't" is in Texas. Anyone know if this is a
>regional construction in Texas?

Not just Texas, I'd guess, but general Southern and [South?] Midland,
unless I miss my guess.

Michael Montgomery and I just happen to have had an exchange on this
topic last week.  With what I hope is his non-objection, I'll
reproduce Michael's question here and my response, of possible
interest for the reference to the cute (if somewhat ill-informed)
piece in the Atlantic I cite below by the humorist Ian Frazier.  The
cartoon in the piece is especially nice.


>With regard to regional negatives that sometimes
>perplex, I have long wondered how much of a role
>intonation might play.  Twenty years ago Lise Winer (a
>Canadian) told me that when she went to SIU-Carbondale
>to teach, she was confused by "I sure don't" being
>expressed with the same intonation as "I sure do."
>She had been used to the two having very different
>patterns, but when she would ask a salespeople if
>their shop had a certain product and got the response
>"we sure don't" with a high falling contour on
>"don't," she was mystified.  Do you think this might
>be a Midlandism?

I think so; I've come across it both in person and on screen (big and
small) representations and at first was very confused, until I
recognized what it was doing.  What I couldn't figure out is if it
was intended as a garden path (helped along by the parallel
intonation you mention), an attempt to be cheerfully polite, or
something else.

Googling it, I find a reference to "The Positive Negative" in an
Atlantic Monthly piece by Ian Frazier from June 1997:

We sure don't!" The last word is spoken with a rising inflection, as
if the expression were a positive one ending with the word "do".

(Despite the reference to "a rising inflection", I suspect this is
the very same intonation you refer to as a "high falling contour".)
Frazier refers to the "Sure Don't Bakery" and more generally to the
'border into "sure don't" America'.

The American Dialect Society -

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