came very much in handy

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Mon Nov 17 02:00:12 UTC 2008

At 11:56 AM -0800 11/16/08, Arnold Zwicky wrote:
>On Nov 15, 2008, at 9:17 PM, James Harbeck wrote:
>>I overheard my wife on the phone saying "Your certificate came very
>>much in handy." A Google check of "came very much in handy" gets 1160
>>hits. I find it quite interesting in the way it attaches the "in" to
>>"handy" rather than "came" -- to my ears, a rough syntactic analog of
>>morphological splits such as "a whole nother."
>"come in handy" is an idiom, but many idioms can be interrupted by
>modifiers.  sometimes the modifiers are understood as modifying the
>idiom as a whole, but are associated syntactically with the most
>significant part of the idiom; this is especially so for verb +
>complement idioms where the verb contributes little semantic content
>to the whole (idioms with "come", "go", "take", etc.).  the modifier
>then has to be appropriate for the syntactic category of the complement.

and some modifiers are of course more versatile than others, e.g.
"proverbial(ly)".  So you can't (easily) kick the wooden bucket or
kick the big or small bucket, but you can kick the proverbial bucket.

>"come in handy" can be modified by adverbials -- "really came in
>handy", "very much came in handy" -- and these can move inside the
>idiom so long as they are appropriate as modifiers of PPs (like "in
>handy"); "came really in handy:" is attested as well as "came very
>much in handy".  i think that that's all that's going on here.
And then there's the public bathroom, which can certainly come in WC handy.


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