Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Thu Sep 27 16:06:54 UTC 2007

On Sep 26, 2007, at 5:35 PM, Jon Lighter wrote:

> Larry, at no time while collecting 1.3. gazillion cites for HDAS
> over nearly forty years have I encountered anything like those "my
> ass" datives.

i'd guess that larry didn't collect these fortuitously but searched
for them.  if pronominal "my ass" is fairly infrequent and personal
datives are too, then the combination will be very infrequent, so
that you might well not come across them just by listening and reading.

i've studied some pretty infrequent variants, collecting examples
very slowly over the years, only to realize that there were ways of
finding some by constrained searching.  my collection of wh + that
examples ("I hadn't realized just how many people that were there" --
last discussed here in august) grew at a glacial pace until
recently.  i got 24 examples on my own from 1994 through 2000 (plus a
few others from published descriptions), and then 46 more from 2001
through this august (the number picked up because once i'd published
about the phenomenon, people began collecting examples for me).

then i realized i could narrow searches and catch certain subtypes:
   {"what sort of * that"}
   {"how much * that we"}
   {"what kind of * that you would like"}
these pulled up astonishing numbers of relevant hits.  so the
construction is very infrequent in one sense -- it comes up only very
occasionally in any person's experience of english -- but reasonably
common in another sense -- there are plenty of examples out there, if
you have access to vast amounts of spoken and written english.


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