"pluperfect hell" -- PS

Geoffrey Nunberg nunberg at ISCHOOL.BERKELEY.EDU
Wed Apr 15 18:19:02 UTC 2009

I just realized the OED has this from 1889. Seems to be jocular
vestige of an age when everybody learned the word in school. (But that
was in another country, and besides, the tense is dead.)


> Can anybody help with this one? Google Book gives a number of hits
> for "pluperfect hell," none earlier than God's Little Acre; e.g.,
> BILLY Now give yourself pluperfect hell. Jerry Wald et al., "Brother
> Rat" (play), 1936
> If the President did not know what was going on around him, he
> should have found out pretty quickly, even, as Ervin said, if he had
> to raise "pluperfect hell" and call in John Mitchell and Maurice
> Stans and demand an explanation." Paul R. Clancy, Just a Country
> Lawyer, 1974
> What's the source of this? Is it regional?
> Geoff
> Begin forwarded message:
>> From: "Glass, Loren D" <loren-glass at uiowa.edu>
>> Date: April 15, 2009 7:53:46 AM PDT
>> To: "nunberg at berkeley.edu" <nunberg at berkeley.edu>
>> Subject: pluperfect
>> Dear Professor Nunberg,
>> I’m hoping you can answer a question for me about Erskine
>> Caldwell’s bestselling novel God’s Little Acre, about which I’m
>> writing an article.  The main character in the text uses the word
>> “pluperfect” as a euphemism for “fucking” (as in “Why in the
>> pluperfect hell did you do that?”).  I’ve not been able to find any
>> reference to this use of this term in any other work, nor is it
>> mentioned in dictionaries of slang.  Are you familiar with it?
>> Thanks for your help.
>> Sincerely,
>> Loren Glass
>> Associate Professor of English
>> University of Iowa
>> 464 EPB
>> Iowa City, IA  52242

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