"biggie" and negative polarity items

RonButters at AOL.COM RonButters at AOL.COM
Sat Aug 30 17:56:47 UTC 2008

In a message dated 8/29/08 5:07:26 PM, laurence.horn at YALE.EDU writes:

> >It seems to me that Larry has discovered a syntactic distinction without a
> >semantic difference. Yes, there may be a difference in the syntactic and
> >discourse properties between positive "biggie" and negated "biggie",
> >but is there
> >really any "meaning" difference?
> There is in any context in which "no biggie" can mean 'no big deal'
> but "(a) biggie" can't mean 'a big deal', as in the examples I gave
> (at least to my intuition; YMMV).

Unless I'm misremembering, the examples you gave were not of instances in
which positive "biggie" did not MEAN the same thing as negated "biggie"--they
were merely instances in which some minor rule or other of English morphosyntax
prevented or inhibited the utterance at all.

Are you merely saying that isolated "no biggie" can have both the meaning
'big deal' AND the more traditional meanings (depending on context), whereas
isolated 'a biggie' can ONLY have the more traditional meanings (even though it
can have the 'big deal' meaning if an anaphoric context makes it clear that the
'big deal' meaning is intended)? That doesn't strike me as much of a meaning
difference, especially since context can indicate any of the meanings for BOTH
the positive and negative forms.

Perhaps what you are suggesting is that there is a kind of idiomatic meaning
to the isolated phrase "No biggie" that is somehow slightly different in
meaning in that (like suchanalogous negative responses as "No sweat!" "Not to
worry!" "No problem!" "No(t a) big deal!") it may have some illocutionary force
(e.g., 'reassurance')? Not all of this slangy "family" have polar counterparts:
"sweat" clearly does not, and some of the others are marginal because they take
some fairly significant rewording to convey even roughly the same idea ("You
need to worry about this!"; "There is a problem!")--but others do not: "That's
a big deal!" and, I'd maintain, "That's a biggie!" And "no big deal" and "no
biggie" are also different in that they do not necessarily convey
'reassurance' (that depends on context). So even the possibility of some sort of weak
idiomatic meaning doesn't seem to pan out.

I'm not trying to be combative here, just trying to understand what you are
asserting that the "meaning" difference is. And of course I'm enjoying talking
about the finer points of negation to someone who wrote the book on it 20
years ago. (Which is not at all the same thing as saying that Larry Horn "wrote
the book" on negativity. No way!) But you are clearly too modest to suggest
merely that I shut up and go read your book, though that would no doubt be good

It's only a deal if it's where you want to go. Find your
travel deal here.


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list