Heard on The Judges: "_for_ to"

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Wed Aug 5 06:09:02 UTC 2009

On Tue, Aug 4, 2009 at 9:28 PM, Wilson Gray wrote:
> On Tue, Aug 4, 2009 at 12:30 PM, Arnold Zwicky wrote:
> >
> > On Aug 4, 2009, at 7:35 AM, Wilson Gray wrote:
> >
> >> Late-teen-aged, black male college student from Ohio, using
> >> Northern-BE phonology, i.e. r-ful, "right" [raIt]:
> >>
> >> "I went to college _for_ to do the right thing."
> >>
> >> I know that the continued use of "for to" is hardly startling, but the
> >> fact that it was used by such a young, Northern person I thought might
> >> be of peripheral interest.
> >
> > i'm away from my copy of DARE, and failed to locate an entry for "for
> > to" by searching DARE on-line... so can anyone report on what's known
> > about the social and regional distribution of "for to" in current
> > English?  (the OED is, of course, not of much use here, since it gives
> > older examples and merely reports that the usage is obsolete "in
> > educated use".)
> Damn! I hate when this happens! I usually try to keep in mind that the
> fact that black people may use a given syntactic structure all of the
> time still leaves the occurrence of said structure a rarity. The
> "fuck-over" syndrome strikes again!

Well, even those who lack the construction in their dialect have
probably heard it deployed lyrically in "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot"
("Coming for to carry me home"), "Oh, Susanna" ("I'm going to
Louisiana, my true love for to see"), "Mr. Tambourine Man" ("I'm ready
to go anywhere, I'm ready for to fade"), "A Horse With No Name"
("There ain't no one for to give you no pain"), etc.

--Ben Zimmer

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

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