[Ads-l] dead fucking boring - infix diagnostic

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Thu Feb 23 11:40:28 EST 2017

Interesting issues here.  I think a couple of things are going on.  I don’t think we want to say “dead boring” is a single word.  For one thing, it’s not a compound and it doesn’t have the phonology of a single word.  Rather, it’s one of many, or at several, cases in which an intensifying adverb must immediately precede the adjective it modifies.  Often there’s a collocation effect.  Other examples include:

Dead ahead
Stark naked
Plumb crazy
Real dumb (vs. “really dumb”, which doesn’t have the immediate adjacency constraint)
Right ahead
Pitch black (originally a compound, but reanalyzed for those who don’t know what “pitch” refers to; cf. the attested “pitch white”)

These are different from “ice cold”, which is still, I think, a compound.

Not unrelated are collocations of intensifier + noun, again not counting as a single word despite the difficulty of interruption:
Rank stranger
Sworn enemy
Bosom buddy
Flaming asshole

For both classes, a diagnostic is ability to interrupt the sequence by a conjoined modifier or other material.  For me at least there’s a difference in pairs like

He’s really, if I may say, certifiable/dumb/...
#He’s real, if I may say, certifiable/dumb/…

He’s really and totally dangerous
#He’s real and totally dangerous

But what *can* interrupt the sequence (at least in most of these cases) is the same material that works as an infix interrupting a word:  “fuckin(g)”, “bloody”, “damn”, etc.:

He’s real fucking certifiable/dangerous
You’re a rank fucking stranger
Plumb fucking crazy

and of course
Dead fucking boring/ahead


> On Feb 23, 2017, at 1:12 AM, Barretts Mail <mail.barretts at GMAIL.COM> wrote:
> Sorry, I think you’re saying that “dead boring” is two words.
> What I’m wondering is whether “fucking” can be used as a diagnostic to determine whether two elements such as these are a single word.
> Benjamin Barrett
> Formerly of Seattle, WA
>> On 22 Feb 2017, at 17:54, Barretts Mail <mail.barretts at gmail.com> wrote:
>> It’s not clear to me, either, but it certainly feels and seems that way. Are there non-infixes that can go there? BB
>>> On 22 Feb 2017, at 17:37, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU> wrote:
>>> I think the occurrence of “bloody”, “fuckin(g)”, “damn”, etc. within a phonological/morphological word, as in “Massa[fuckin]chusetts”, “fan[damn]tastic” or “abso[bloody]lutely” are better candidates for infix status than “dead fucking boring”, since it’s not clear to me that “fucking” is an affix at all in the latter case. 
>>> LH
>>>> On Feb 22, 2017, at 6:05 PM, Barretts Mail <mail.barretts at GMAIL.COM> wrote:
>>>> “Fucking” and variations (blooming, bloody) are the few options for infixing in English. 
>>>> (Comic: http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=8463 <http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=8463>)
>>>> Although it’s possible to parse “dead fucking boring” as “dead boring and fucking boring”, I’m inclined to parse “fucking” as an infix between the two. It, as well as “dead bloody boring”, comes up on Google.
>>>> Here are some tests that don’t come up on Google:
>>>> dead terribly boring (dead, terribly boring meaning dead and terribly boring is on Google)
>>>> dead frighteningly boring
>>>> dead jacked boring =? dead-jacked boring
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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

More information about the Ads-l mailing list