"What's it provoke?"

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sat May 29 17:21:29 UTC 2010

At 4:13 AM -0400 5/29/10, Victor Steinbok wrote:
>A couple of bits from the same story. The exchange below concerns a
>question one of NFL executives supposedly asked a recruit (Dez Bryant)
>before the NFL draft: was his mother a prostitute?
>>Kornheiser: "Was this particular question in bounds?"
>>Wilbon: "That's not an interview question. That's insulting
>>demeaning. If Dez Bryant had gotten up and turned the desk over on
>>this guy, that would have been in bounds. If he had knocked his head
>>off, where I come from, that would have been fine. When I talk about
>>the NFL arrogance, this is what I'm saying   I'm talking about the
>>feeling that you can say anything, do anything, and there are no
>>consequences. This disgusts me."
>>Kornheiser: "Do you think it's possible   that they would be gauging
>>what kind of person Dez Bryant is, that they wanted to see his reaction?"
>>Wilbon: "That's a justification that's garbage, if that's their
>>justification. Tony, suppose she was. Then what?   So what is it
>>getting at to ask that question? What's it provoke?"
>My first query is on "What's it provoke?" It's a puzzling structure to
>me that I hope some of the resident linguists can elucidate.

I'm assuming it's an allegro reduction of "What
does it provoke?", i.e. "What sort of response
from Bryant was it intended to provoke?"

I think it's possible to get "What's it mean?",
"What's it do?", and sof forth, where you'd get
similar reductions of "What does it..."

On the other hand, if you're wondering whether
"What does it provoke?" can be used for "What is
it intended to/supposed to provoke?", I'm not
sure how to respond.  I probably wouldn't say it,
but it doesn't strike me as all that unlikely.


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

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