USAGE: English adverbials 'the heck', 'the hell', etc.
|From:||John Quijada <jq_ithkuil@...>|
|Date:||Friday, April 9, 2004, 0:00|
I have been pondering the strange morpho-syntax of the class of adverbial
phrases in colloquial American English involving expletive nouns or
expletive-like nouns which convey a harshly annoyed connotation. Such
expressions include the hell, the heck, the f**k, etc.
I notice the peculiarly narrow range of grammatically acceptable usages.
For example, they appear acceptable with all the WH-class of question
words, but using them in any answer to a WH-question appears to be
permissible only by means of an additional prepositional or quasi-
prepositional element, as in the following examples (grammatically
unacceptable forms marked with asterisks):
What the hell are you doing?
Where the hell did he find that?
Why the hell is he coming?
Who the hell cares?
How the hell should I know?
Answers to WH-type Questions:
Im mowing the lawn.
*Im mowing the hell the lawn.
*Im the hell mowing the lawn.
Im mowing the hell OUT OF the lawn.
He found it up in the attic.
*He found it the hell up in the attic.
*He the hell found it up in the attic.
He found it WAY the hell up in the attic.
There also appears to be a restriction in effect based on whether the
context denotes a scalar degree versus a fixed absolute degree (or is it an
aspectual restriction?). For example:
I beat the hell out of him.
*I killed the hell out of him.
And a different restriction appears to operate in the following:
We trashed the hell out of his house.
?? We ate the hell out of those beans.
*We closed the hell out of that door.
The specific phrase the hell (but apparently not the heck or the
f**k) also appears in the following construction:
The hell youre going to any party!
The hell hes marrying my daughter!
The phrase can also function as a whole predicate in conjunction
with with, as seen in the following examples:
The hell with you! (which appears equivalent in meaning to To hell with
Im curious as to whether anyone on the list is aware of a formal
grammatical treatment of such phrases in the linguistic literature. Im
especially curious as to why such phrases carry the highly unusual
compositional structure of DEFINITE ARTICLE + NOUN being used adverbially.
I cant think of any other types of nouns used this way in English, e.g.,
*Why the table dont you call me?
*When the sky did you get here?
*Where in the noodle have you been?
*They trashed the convenience out of his house.
*The responsibility youre marrying my daughter!
*The cat with you!
Another question: although I speak formal (non-colloquial) French,
Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian with varying degrees of fluency, I learned
them academically, so I am not aware of how they handle equivalent
translations to the above colloquial English sentences. Do these or other
languages handle such expressions similarly using a highly restricted
Lastly, does anyone have a conlang where such noun-based adverbials are
formally designated for use this way?