like = 'It goes without saying that...not'

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Thu Jan 24 16:58:34 UTC 2013

On Jan 24, 2013, at 11:39 AM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:

> OED doesn't cover this ironic sentence-header, which one now hears
> frequently. (I can't even guess as to when I first notice it, though I'll
> SWAG it, tentatively, to the late '70s or so.)
> A splendid example occurs in the current TV commercial when Progressive Flo
> magically appears on a stormy roadside to assist a hapless insuree:
> HE: I knew you'd come.
> SHE (reprovingly, with a hint of interrogation):  Like I could stay away?
> Watch it here:
> Thirty-seventh century researchers may have a hard time explaining such a
> construction.
Well, one piece of evidence at their disposal would be that they would have digital access to 20th and 21st century sarcastic clauses headed by "like" (or the roughly equivalent "as if") in which negative polarity items can occur, and access to the lack of sarcastic sentences in which they can't:

A couple of examples from my collection, where the elimination of "like" makes the sentences pretty awful (although its replacement by "as if" is fine):

What am I doing? Like I’m ever gonna learn to speak Mandarin.
            —“Parenthood”, ABC TV dramedy, 4 Oct. 2011

I undressed in front of the lot of them, old Lear protesting from time to time, like anyone gave a hot bootful of piss what he had to say anymore.
—Christopher Moore (2009), Fool, p. 278

This pattern has been discussed in a couple of papers.  Some minimal pairs:

a.  Bill Gates received a huge tax return this year. Like he needs any more money!
b.  (So let me get this straight,) *he needs any more money.
(Bender & Kathol 2001)

a.  {Like/As if} I was going to give him any money.
b.  #I was going to give him any money.
(Camp & Hawthorne 2008)

So the idea is that these items ("ever", "any", and other negative polarity items) can occur in sarcastic utterances in the absence of negation, but only if the sarcasm is overtly flagged.


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