I would like to hear your take on the following:
In episode 8/2 of House, he recounts his prison experience to his colleagues: I wasn't raped. Well, perhaps I was raped, but not raped raped. Well, perhaps I was raped raped, but not raped raped raped.
This is not a simple intensifier (as in yes, yes, or really, really), but rather it seems to say: I'm not kidding, this is the real thing. Then the scriptwriter mocks it by embarking on an infinite series.
The basic phenomenon here was first (?) discussed in a seminal paper by Jila Ghomeshi, Ray Jackendoff, Nicole Rosen, and Kevin Russell, "Contrastive Focus Reduplication in English (the Salad-Salad Paper)", NLLT 2004 (earlier ms version from 2000 here). Since then, as a Google Scholar search shows, there have been quite a few other discussions, and here on Language Log, we've contributed at least a few cartoon references: "Contrastive focus reduplication in Zits", 6/11/2007; "Contrastive focus reduplication in the courtroom", 6/11/2007; "Friendly friend friendly", 7/20/2011; "From X-X to X-X-X", 7/28/2011.
The cited example from House seems to be pretty much in line with the standard analysis of the phenomenon. It occurs at about the 6:00 mark of the show. House has been conditionally released from prison on parole to help with an especially difficult case; he joins a case conference in progress; and when none of his former colleagues says anything, he intervenes in typically caustic fashion:
|Other_doctor:||… 93% …|
|House:||Prison! Sorry, I- I thought I heard everyone else think that. I was in prison, you see. 'S a long time ago, but… still, you're curious. Never was raped. Not raped-raped. Well, raped-raped but not raped-raped-raped.
Well. Now that we've got that completely behind us.
|Other_doctor:||Sorry. Dr. House, welcome back.|
|House:||Is there cake?|
As Ghomeshi et al. observe,
The semantic effect of this construction is to focus the denotation of the reduplicated element on a more sharply delimited, more specialized, range. For instance, SALAD–salad in (1a) denotes speciﬁcally green salad as opposed to salads in general, and, in the context in which (1e) was used, AUCKLAND–Auckland denotes the city in New Zealand as opposed to other cities that may happen to have this name. For a ﬁrst approximation, we characterize this effect as denoting the prototypical instance of the reduplicated lexical expression.
Certainly the notion of "focusing the denotion of the reduplicated element on a more sharply delimited range" is easy to see as a potentially recursive operation. I don't think that the recursive replication is necessarily "mocking" — but one of House's characteristic ways of being sarcastic is to prolong the discussion of irrelevant or offensive topics by delving into increasing layers of detail, and recursive application of the X-X construction is a convenient way for him to do that in this case.
Note — although I don't know of any linguistic analysis of this phenomenon prior to the work of Ghomeshi et al., the phenomenon itself has of course been around for a long time. Thus
Although Madame de Camberges was rich, she did not feel herself properly rich, not rich rich. [Martha Gellhorn, His Own Man, 1961]
Since the meaning is arguably a logical or at least natural consequence of the usual interpretation of prosodic focus in English, I wouldn't be surprised to find examples from the 19th century or even before, though it's possible that the construction arose more recently.