"not so much" 'no'

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Wed May 26 05:42:09 UTC 2010

Exhaustive search is virtually impossible, given other usage, but some
lucky hits do happen. I limited search to 1990-2000, because I had
assumed that the phrase was a part of normal 1990s teen-speak, possibly
starting out in the mid-1980s. The nice thing about it is that, although
there are a lot of hits, this kind should be easy to spot--isolated,
three-word sentences. Obviously "It's not so much X []" and "Not so much
Y but Z" and "N V but not so much []" don't work.

Texas Alcalde. Nov/Dec 1997. p. 26
--Have you had trouble yourself with that sort of thing?
--Not so much. [followed by an explanation]

Note that this is an interview with a high-school student (class of '98).

American Motorcyclist. July 1995. p. 56
--AM: Focusing on the tracks themselves, is it difficult to make the
transition from Supercross to the outdoor events?
--Huffman: Not so much, although I think Nationals are a little tougher.
Coming up, all I ever rode was motorcross, and I had to get used to
Supercross. So it's fairly natural for me to jump back to motorcross.
It's difficult at times, but that's just part of the job.

I suppose, one could argue here that the negation is somewhat muted
("Yeah, it's tough at times..."). It's clearly a no, but a qualified no.

But also note that both of these are in interviews. The rest of 600+
hits were NOT interviews. This, of course, makes sense, because it
allows for a dialogue and a short response.

The main difference between these two and both Buffy and Eureka is that
the TV shows had built-in humor, so a response like that was often laden
with sarcasm. It is something that is possible to reproduce on paper,
but more difficult. E.g., "Did I catch any fish? Not so much." This is
actually fairly characteristic of ironic self-inquiries. In my view, at
least, it appears that the strength of the negation depends on the
degree of humor/irony/sarcasm intended.

Still, in every case where it is isolated, the phrase conveys a stronger
sense of negation than it ever could as a comparative. Even a single
additional word can destroy this sense:

The Rotarian. October 1989. p. 34/1
"'Service Above Self'?" said Bill with a smile. "It meant a lot to me,
once. Not so much now, though: I'm a senior active, with the emphasis on
the 'senior' and not on the 'active.' ..."


On 5/25/2010 11:20 PM, Arnold Zwicky wrote:
> an exchange from an episode of the tv series Eureka:
> High school student: So we're not getting an A.
> Sheriff Jack Carter [the central character in the series, played by Colin Ferguson]: Errr... Not so much.
> .....
> this is "not so much", a formally muted negative, conveying a straightforward negative answer.
> it's conventionalized for the character, who uses it fairly often.
> any record of this use elsewhere?  (i don't recall having heard it before, which is what made me notice it, but i just might not have noticed earlier occurrences.)
> arnold

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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