Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Mon Mar 5 02:09:00 UTC 2001

At 9:14 PM -0600 3/4/01, Gerald Cohen wrote:
>   I'm not sure if this was mentioned in the discussion of "boo" (=nothing).
>I had often heard this word used in an expression to describe someone
>as overly timid: "He wouldn't say boo to a ghost." I suppose the
>original idea was that if you say "boo" to a ghost, the ghost would
>become frightened and disappear. Then by shortening; "He wouldn't say

Could be.  This would then involve the same loss of transparency we
have in "happy as a clam", orig. "happy as a clam at high tide".

For what it's worth, here's some info on a Dutch counterpart of
"(say) boo", courtesy of Jack Hoeksema at Groningen.
regarding BOO, I could add that Dutch has the same item, usually
amplified to BOO or BA, spelled BOE (OE = /u/ in Dutch orthography),
usually with the verb SAY:

        Hij zei geen boe of ba.
        he said no   boo or ba

        Hij zei boe noch ba.
        He said boo nor ba

        Hij vertrok zonder   boe of ba te zeggen.
        He left       without boo  or ba to say
        "He left without saying boo or ba"

        Now, "ba" is also used as an interjection, to express disgust,
        and in childish speech also in the euphemistic combination "ba
        doen" (do ba = to shit).  So we are back to squatitives!  (Of
        course, also the play with alliteration and ablaut plays a role.)

        "Boe" is also an interjection, similar to English "Boo!" - intended
        to frighten children.

>    "Diddly-boo" is probably a blend of "diddly-squat" and "boo"
>rather than the starting point of "boo" (=nothing).

I basically agree, although I think the blend is also influenced by
"poo".  In fact I would be more inclined to regard it as a blend of
"diddly-poo" and "boo".


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