"Call you crazy but..."

Marc Velasco marcjvelasco at GMAIL.COM
Thu Jun 5 22:05:57 UTC 2008

Warning: Explicit Lyrics

Possibly NSFW, NSFK....

Warning 2: Ahead lies a long, and possibly boring account of swear/curse
words as verbs; none of the funniness about how a word like 'f---' can fill
every part of speech, or anything too entertaining.  So, if you proceed and
are disappointed, you've been warned, and you can get a full refund.

For the curious, Quang's paper:


For the particular construction of goddam (Quang's spelling), I still say
that the overt subject is staring us in the face.  I read it as a request
from, or invocation of, God Himself.  And I see no particular
ungrammaticality of Goddamn Himself (though in this case, I think it would
have to be subjunctive, as in 'May God damn Himself').  At any rate, I would
take that to be a very particular complaint against the Almighty.

For the use of _damn_ without an overt subject, I think God *may* be
implied.  More generally, it is a call upon anyone to damn or curse the NP
object.  In the past, sorcerers, witches and other mortals were thought to
be able to damn/curse people, and probably did so for profit.  So the
implied subject (requestee) might be God, or it might be any other
third-party: wizard, witch, scofflaw, or even someone, or perhaps everyone.

In general, I'm not sure whether Quang's restrictions are purely
grammatical, or whether they're merely constrained by meaning.  Lots of
swear words become meaningless when the object of the swear becomes too

In addressing the point Quang makes at the end about the transition between
quasi-verbs and regular verbs, I'd like to mention two points.

1) _Curse_ as a verb can often be replaced with _damn_ and vice versa.
Curse being a related and somewhat more 'polite' form of damn.  Still extant
is the construction "I curse you..." as well as the phrase "curse it all."
"Curse it all" even finds a parallel construction with "damn it all" as in
"damn it all to hell."  This suggests that Quang's missing subject might
sometimes be the first person.

curse it all -- [

2) Anecdotal evidence (mine): It seems I've heard non-native AE speakers*
fully construct such phrases, in particular I remember something like "I
shit on you.... I shit on your whole family."  Here the literalness of the
defecating prompts the speaker to apparently volunteer for the job.  This
might further suggest that the missing subject is indeed (at least
sometimes) the first person.  In fact, as far as _shit on_ goes, I've never
heard/read it without a specified subject.

*(While taking grammatical cues from non-native speakers is always risky, it
might still give clues as to what the most 'natural' grammatical
construction is.)

(Note, for _shit_ and _shit on_ very different usages.  _Shit on_ requires
the preposition to be effective.

1) You've got to be shitting me.  No, I'm not shitting you.  I shit you not.
(~No joke.)
2) I shit on you.  (Derogatory.)

So while _shit_ by itself is not listed as one of Quang's quasi-verbs, the
phrase _shit on_ is, but only with it's particular construction.  I've not
yet looked at whether _shit_ (non-derogatory) follows Quang's restrictions
for quasi-verbs.  It's quite possible that many slang verbs follow some of
Quang's restrictions.

In general, I don't believe Quang's missing subject is dropped because it is
implied, but rather, it is dropped to focus the emphasis.  By dropping the
subject, Quang's quasi-verbs (verbs with a subvert subject?) place all the
information and attention on the verb's object.

3) Fuck it.  -- All the information in the sentence is the verb, and the
object.  With an undefined subject, while we may wonder who/what is supposed
to be performing the verb, we know for certain, that whatever it is,
according to the speaker 'it' should be fucked.

4) I fuck it.  -- This construction places the subject front and center, and
seems to be making as much of a statement about the subject as about the
object; if anything, the sentence is most clearly portraying the
relationship between subject and object (fucker/fuckee).  In cases where
homoerotic connotations should be avoided, and/or cases where the literal
(copulating) meaning of fuck might place the fucker (privileged) in a
position of unwanted risk of STI, making the subject undefined seems doubly
beneficial to the speaker.

So, much as the passive voice can be used when what is important is not the
subject but the action, perhaps this construction is used when what is
important is not the subject but the object.


On Quang's restrictions.

5) Fuck you.
6) Go fuck yourself.

Following Quang, we should interpret 5) as epithetical (by his technical,
lexical term), and 6) as a vanilla instance of an imperative verb, which
just happens to be epithetical (ie, derogatory).  According to Quang, 5)
would be his fuck_1, and 6) would be his fuck_2. (Where underscore denotes

But in usage, 6) is often used merely derogatorily, with no literal proposal
that someone go copulate with himself/herself.  It is about as literal as
5).  The two seem close in meaning.  Compare with 7) below.

7) I fucked myself last night when I locked my keys in my car.

While, the grammar of 7) seems to follow that of Quang's fuck_1 in that it
has no adverbial restrictions, clearly the meaning of 7) is not that of
Quang's fuck_1, which in his examples were apparently all referencing

As for the ability of these epithetical phrases to use adverbial elements,
Quang notes that 8) [below] is acceptable, while 9) is not.  However, 10) is
a common usage and seems to employ adverbial elements.  10) is not cited by

8) Damn those irregular verbs.
9) Damn those irregular verbs tomorrow.
10) Damn those irregular verbs to hell.

Additionally, one can find other colorful instances of _fuck_, which have
adverbial elements with them.

11) So fuck you with a spoon.
12) Fuck you Jimmy. Fuck you with a spoon.

(How should he/she/it/they fuck you?  He/she/it/they should fuck you _with a

So, apparently epithets like _fuck_ and _damn_ still do get used like verbs
do.  For the cases of 12) and 13), if one were to say that they are
following the grammar of fuck_1, then semantically, they take on a meaning
so close to fuck_2 (showing disdain, speaker's attitude toward object), the
grammatical distinctions become insubstantial.  But to me, it seems that the
attitude towards the object is carried by the verb, and all the colorful
ways you can dress it up.

So, in sum, I think Quang is chasing butterflies in trying to explain away
the missing subjects.  I think many of his restrictions are valid, some less
so.  I think the missing subjects is a) understood, and b) dropped to place
the emphasis on the disdained object.


Why all the restrictions on the NP is a good question.  Likewise for whether
or not that means the VP isn't a VP.


(I was going to come up with my own version of an adverbial phrase modifying
a epithet--"fuck communism tomorrow"--, but apparently the internet saved me
the trouble.)

On Thu, Jun 5, 2008 at 1:23 PM, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at yale.edu>

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: "Call you crazy but..."
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> At 12:41 PM -0400 6/5/08, Marc Velasco wrote:
> >Not to be quippy, but in a sentence like 'Goddamn the imperial
> warmongers.'
> >isn't it an imperative addressed at God?  (On the particularness of
> >'damning' I disagree to that part of the Phuc Dong paper.  I think it goes
> >back to cultures where magic and minor curses were accepted practice.)
> Quang's argument (note that "Phuc Dong" were his given, not to say
> Christian, names) was that if God were the subject, we'd get "Goddamn
> Himself", but in fact we get "Goddamn God".  Nor is God the likely
> subject of "Fuck you!", but again the lack of a reflexive here (as
> opposed to "(Go) fuck yourself") indicates that the subject can't be
> second person either.  Whence the title of his paper, "English
> sentences without overt grammatical subject".
> LH
> >
> >As for something like 'Call me crazy...' wouldn't that be an implied "[You
> >can] call me crazy, but..." ?  To me it seems an invitation to an
> associate,
> >as derogatory terms coming from close associates can have a harmless sort
> of
> >quality to them, while the same epithets from a stranger might seem to
> sting
> >more.  (In any case, it all depends on the delivery.)
> >
> >So, if the example you cite was the inverse of this, then 'Call you crazy,
> >but...' might imply something like "[I might] call you crazy, but for some
> >reason you like saving money."
> Not implausible,
> >
> >It keeps the derogation coming from a 'safe' source, presuming that
> there's
> >an immediate familiarity formed by the speaker in the commercial with the
> >viewer (which seems a common advertising conventions).
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >On Wed, Jun 4, 2008 at 3:56 PM, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at yale.edu>
> >wrote:
> >
> >>  ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> >>  -----------------------
> >>  Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> >>  Poster:       Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
> >>  Subject:      "Call you crazy but..."
> >>
> >>
> >>-------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> >>
> >>  Yup, this appears to be an extension of the rather more common "Call
> >>  me crazy but..."  It occurs in a currently aired GEICO commercial, in
> >>  which the insurance company attempts to appeal to those who
> >>  (surprisingly) are fond of avoiding unnecessary expense.  The full
> >>  line (just confirmed on the internet) is:
> >>
> >>  Instead of paying more for car insurance you'd rather pay less. Call
> >>  you crazy but for some strange reason you like saving money. ...
> >>
> >>  This sort of works, if at al, as a report of the addressee (the
> >>  putative insurance buyer) announcing "Call me crazy but...I like
> >>  saving money".  What is the subject of the above sentence? It's
> >>  obviously not 2d person, or it would be "Call yourself crazy".  (I'm
> >  > reminded of the immortal Quang Phuc Dong paper, "English sentences
> >  > without overt grammatical subject", which treats pseudo-imperatives
> >>  like "Goddamn those imperialist war-mongerers" and "Fuck you".)
> >>  Maybe the underlying form is something like
> >>
> >>  "[Let them] call you crazy but..."
> >>
> >>  (I can't tell if GEICO invented this; it's hard to search for "Call
> >>  you crazy (but)" on google without case-sensitivity or a symbol for
> >>  the beginning of a sentence.)
> >>
> >>  LH
> >>
> >>  ------------------------------------------------------------
> >>  The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
> >>
> >
> >------------------------------------------------------------
> >The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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