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Expletive (was: Odd construct)

From:Raymond Brown <ray.brown@...>
Date:Sunday, October 14, 2001, 6:15
At 1:39 pm -0700 12/10/01, Matthew Pearson wrote:
>--- You wrote: >> If you mean the semantically empty "it" found in sentences like "It is >> raining" or "It seems that John is sick", then yes. Both are referred >> to as expletives. > >I wasn't aware of that meaning for "expletive". >--- end of quote --- > >I'm not sure how this term came to be used in this way. What's more >confusing is that the everyday sense of "expletive" is also employed in >linguistics, as in the term "expletive insertion". This term refers to the >insertion of an emphatic element (usually a swear word) in the middle of >another word--e.g., "abso-fuckin'-lutely!"
The word originally meant "a filler (element)" << Latin: ex-ple:re "to fill out". It was used first AFAIK to describe more or less meaningless words inserted into verse to fill out the line. Thence it came also to be used to denote a word which carries no meaning but serves only a grammatical purpose, e.g. _it_ is raining; _there_ are three main causes; etc. "Expletive insertion" once meant only the insertion of a (fairly) meaningless element to produce some effect such as emphasis. But as, in Matt's example, such expletive insertions tend to be swear-words, the term came to be misunderstood as meaning "swear-word insertion", hence the common use of 'expletive' simply to mean 'swear-word' which IMO is a pity, since 'expletive' once had a useful meaning. Ray. ========================================= A mind which thinks at its own expense will always interfere with language. [J.G. Hamann 1760] =========================================