Who's diddling and how?

Wed Jul 16 18:21:57 UTC 2008

        While A and B seem in the abstract to be far more likely, I would think that C would become the exclamation of choice if the woman were well-known to the speaker and the man were not.

John Baker

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of Jonathan Lighter
Sent: Wednesday, July 16, 2008 1:24 PM
Subject: Re: Who's diddling and how?

To return to the original query.

Try this X-rated thought experiment on your wise-ass students (18 and over only, please!).

Imagine you're walking along an isolated forest path. You turn a corner and discover, to your surprise, a naked couple "doing it" in the some semblance of either the missionary or canine-related position.  Now imagine that "X" in the following sentences stands for the "f-word."  Which of the following exclamations is most likely to be produced by your brain? (No other exclamation allowed for the present purpose.):

A. "Omigod! They're Xing!"
B. "Omigod! He's Xing her!"
C. "Omigod! She's Xing him!"

I strongly suspect that this is the order in which the utterances will in most cases occur to them. I further predict that, when time machines become inexpensive and practicable, you will find that most speakers you test going back to the 16th C. (and earlier if you replace the "f-word" with a period synonym like "swive") will yield comparable results.

Choice C seems to me unlikely in this situation, but hardly "ungrammatical" or even grammatically (as opposed to psychologically) peculiar.

My belief based on HDAS exx., etc.: Such verbs most typically take masculine subjects (for what I believe are obvious physiological reasons), but in appropriate contexts feminine subjects are also idomatic.


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