Arnold Zwicky zwicky at STANFORD.EDU
Sun Aug 16 17:26:51 UTC 2009

On Aug 14, 2009, at 7:26 PM, Victor Steinbok wrote:

>>> Daniel Hannan, a British Conservative member of the European
> Parliament, joined the scare mongering campaign, appearing on a US
> chat
> show to attack the British health system.
> "The reality is it hasn't worked. It has made people _iller_; we
> spend a
> lot of money and we get very bad results," he said.

comparative and superlative forms of "ill" 'sick, unhealthy' have some
history.  Jespersen's Modern English Grammar volume 7 (around p. 362)
has quotes; OED2 has a 1637 cite for "iller"; and DARE has examples in
its entry for "ill".  these cites are all over the map stylistically,
but some of them come from reasonably elevated sources.  the
conclusion i draw is that these forms are acceptable but minority
options.  no doubt some speakers don't like them and don't use them.
(there are, after all, objections out there to, among other things,
"realer", "solider", "stupidest", and even "cleverer".)

to confound things a bit, there is now a rap/hip-hop sense of "ill",
with frequently used comparative "iller" and superlative "illest".  a
draft addition of June 2006 in the OED has two senses for this "ill"
-- a negative sense 'aggressive, irrational, crazy; unpleasant,
bad' (an offshoot of the standard senses) and (as so often happens
with evaluative slang vocabulary) a reversed-polarity positive sense
'excellent, attractive; fashionable'.  the Urban Dictionary is, of
course, more excessive, listing as senses: cool, tight, sweet, dope,
phat, amazing, awesome, the best (and, of course, "sick" in an
approving sense).  so when Eminem raps "No One's Iller Than Me", he's


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