[Ads-l] An early "is is."

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at STANFORD.EDU
Tue Mar 28 09:53:59 EDT 2017

> On Mar 28, 2017, at 4:56 AM, Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM> wrote:
> Even Old New York was once New Amsterdam.
> 1.8 million raw Googlits for "The thing of it is is."

you completely misunderstand the point here (probably because you haven't read any of the material i pointed you to).

the issue is how to classify particular *instances*.  a major point in the tecnical literature of Isis is that *some* occurrences of "is and "is" in succession are disfluencies, while others are not -- and the latter ones are examples of Isis. Isis is, in fact, quite common these days, and people (inclding me) have collected sizable collections of examples. (punctuation in written text is not always reliable, so collecting clean data usually involves at least listening to the examples, or, better, doing acoustic analysis (which has been done, to separate disfluencies from true Isis).

nobody is claiming that all instances of "is" followed by "is" are disfluencies. quite the contrary: Isis researchers claim that Isis is now a construction of vernacular spoken English, an alternative to single-BE examples, that it is now widespread (though far from universal), and that it arose fairly recently.  meanwhile, the relevant sort of disfluency has presumably been around for many centuries -- virtually never represented in texts because it's a phenomenon of speech.

putting all this together, i judged that the example you found was probably a representation in writing of a disfluency (we can't know for sure, since all of this is in fiction) -- a nice early example of a disfluency represented in fiction, in fact, part of the long movement towards representing spoken dialogue more accurately, more realistically, in fiction.

but i carefully said "probably".  i would have been much more impressed on the Isis side if Peacock had written

> "The thing of it, Waldron said... "is is that this order was set up for you personally."


> "The thing of it is is," Waldron said ... "that this order was set up for you personally."


> "The thing of it is that," Waldron said ... "this order was set up for you personally."

now for another confounding fact, about all those occurrences on the net of "The thing of it is is".  alas, an incredibly common *typo* is the doubling of function words; the occurrence of "the the" is absolutely astounding, and "to to" is pretty impressive as well. so lots of "is is" would be no surprise in rapidly performed, unedited, informal writing on the net.

add to this the fact that writing on the net very often dispenses with commas where they would be called for in careful writing.

and add to this the fact that raw ghits are a very poor gauge of actual occurrence, since there are many repetitions in google searches.

so the question is: with repetitions removed, how many of the "The thing of it is is" examples actually represent writers' intentions?  that is, to what extent is Isis moving from speech into informal writing?  i wouldn't be surprised to discover that this has been happening recently, but i have no evidence on the matter.


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

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