Ask Language Log: Raped-raped-raped

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MM writes:

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:

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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.



  1. jfruh said,

    January 14, 2012 @ 12:03 pm

    I think this might be a reference (or at least the same phenomenon as?) a moment on The View, when the hosts were discussing Roman Polanski, and Whoopi Goldberg said something along the lines of "Well, but it wasn't rape-rape, right?" In that context, she was drawing a distinction between the primary definition of rape (when someone doesn't give consent to a sexual act) and statuatory rape (where the victim gives consent but is deemed legally incapable of doing so due to age or other factors).

  2. anna said,

    January 14, 2012 @ 12:18 pm

    Although in the Roman Polanski case the victim actually didn't give consent, as well as being underage.

  3. Rodger C said,

    January 14, 2012 @ 12:46 pm

    Isn't that essentially what T. E. Lawrence said?

  4. jfruh said,

    January 14, 2012 @ 1:00 pm

    @anna — yes, meant to add that, actually. (Though I think the general impression people have of the case is that it was about stauatory rape, so I'm still pretty sure that's the distinction Whoopi meant to draw.)

  5. harryh said,

    January 14, 2012 @ 1:05 pm

    The author's usage of the term "recursive" presupposes that the structure of "raped raped" is something like [raped [raped]], but is there any evidence that this is indeed the case and not an iterative alternative like [raped raped]? … OK, I just skimmed Ghomeshi et al and see that they treat the repeated material as a reduplicational affix, so I guess the passive verb in the example would be recursive: V -> [V Af [V]].

  6. Brian Buccola said,

    January 14, 2012 @ 1:44 pm

    It's interesting that the reduplication operates recursively on the original base ("raped") each time and not on the entire output, i.e. we get three instances of "raped" and not four:

    (1) raped, but not [raped]-raped.
    (2) [raped]-raped, but not [ [raped]-raped ]-raped.

    That is, in (2) the reduplication operates on the first instance of "raped" in "[raped]-raped", creating a nest and making the output number of "raped" instances increase by 1 instead of exponentially if it were instead:

    (2') [raped]-raped, but not [ [raped]-raped ]-[raped]-raped.

    …which sounds really bad for some reason. And what sounds just as bad, but pretty amusing if stressed "properly", is if the operation occurs on the second instance instead of the first:

    (3) [raped]-RAPED, but not [raped]-[ [RAPED]-raped ].

    I think I've typed that word enough now.

    [(myl) Here's a clue as to why, from Dean Bakopoulos, Please Don't Come Back from the Moon, 2006:


  7. Brian Buccola said,

    January 14, 2012 @ 2:26 pm

    myl: But why is it that we can have, for example:

    - rich, but not wealthy rich.
    - well, wealthy rich, but not [over-the-top wealthy] rich.

    as well as, crucially

    - well, wealthy rich, but not wealthy [rub-it-in-your-face rich].

    In the former case, we focus the denotation of "wealthy"; in the latter case we further focus the denotation of "rich". So, given "wealthy rich", either word's denotation can presumably be focused.

    The former case seems a lot like "rich rich, but not [RICH-rich] rich" (i.e. House's usage), whereas the latter case would correlate with "rich rich, but not rich [RICH-rich]", which just sounds bizarre.

    That is, the reduplication always seems to target the leftmost constituent, whereas in non-reduplicative constructions, any constituent's denotation can, I think, be focused.

  8. Ellen K. said,

    January 14, 2012 @ 2:38 pm

    Roger C: Isn't that essentially what T. E. Lawrence said?

    @Roger C.: Lots of things were said in the post and comments before your comment, and I'm not familiar with things said/written by T. E. Lawrence. What are you referring to?

  9. Alacritas said,

    January 14, 2012 @ 4:04 pm

    When I was a kid, we made the distinction between platonic relationships ("to like") and romantic ones ("to like-like"), e.g. "Do you like her?" "Yeah." "No, but do you LIKE like her?"

    This reduces the ambiguity of the verb "to like" for kids, especially since at that age "to love" is mostly reserved for familial relationships.

  10. Jon Weinberg said,

    January 14, 2012 @ 5:05 pm

    From Carl Sandburg's Snatch of Sliphorn Jazz (dunno when exactly, but before 1930):

    Are you happy? It's the only way to be, kid. / Yes, be happy, it's a good nice way to be. / But not happy-happy kid, don't be too doubled-up doggone happy.

  11. J.W. Brewer said,

    January 14, 2012 @ 5:48 pm

    There seem to be two related but distinguishable things going on here: like-like as opposed to like connotes what you might call intensity, whereas salad-salad as opposed to salad seems to connote prototypicality – a narrower, but not necessarily "better" referent. Part of the reason Ms. Goldberg got some negative reaction was that in contrasting rape-rape to rape these two things kind of blur together, so she was taken (quite plausibly) not just to be saying that Polanski's crime was not a core/paradigmatic/prototypical instance of the general class of rapes but that it was a less serious offense. By contrast, saying that a particular dish may be a salad but it's not a salad-salad is not necessarily (without knowing a whole lot more about context) to belittle it or imply it should be taken less seriously. Even saying that someone is Korean but not Korean-Korean (meaning by contrast that they are an at least moderately assimilated Korean-American, in an example from one of the prior links) might be taken as usefully/neutrally descriptive rather than pejorative/belittling in the right context, although it's certainly also the sort of phrasing that could get you in trouble if you'd misjudged the context or the audience.

  12. Charles in Vancouver said,

    January 14, 2012 @ 6:00 pm

    See also Kristen Schaal on the Daily Show, talking about "rape rape" versus "rape-ish".

  13. Andy Averill said,

    January 14, 2012 @ 7:10 pm

    Per Google Books, the earliest occurrence of "not rich rich" is — son of a gun, Martha Gellhorn, 1961. I'm not surprised, it doesn't particularly sound like the sort of thing people said any earlier than that.

  14. Jon Weinberg said,

    January 14, 2012 @ 8:08 pm

    This isn't as early as the Sandburg, of course, but Google has a 1954 New Yorker with this: "A shut amusement park, as I was aware from experience (I've been known to go out to Coney in December, just for a look around), is one of the saddest sights imaginable — not sad sad, of course, but just sentimentally so . . . ."

  15. Eimear Ní Mhéalóid said,

    January 14, 2012 @ 8:56 pm

    I often use "home home" to refer to my parents' house.

  16. Kenny said,

    January 15, 2012 @ 3:14 am

    Is there any significance to the fact that the entire word "raped" was doubled?

    I was thinking that if I were to say what House said, I would phrase it as "rape raped" and "rape rape raped". Basically, I wouldn't double any inflections.

    Then again, I wouldn't follow that rule for every verb. I would say "He offended offended her" and never "He offend offended her". –But to make things even more complicated, I'm quite sure I would say "She defend defended him" instead of "She defended defended him", though I'm more open to "defended defended" than to "offend offended". To incorporate the "like like" into the distinction, I would find "I like-liked her" far superior to "I liked liked her." Contrast with "He like-likes her" (natural and acceptable to me) and "He likes likes her." (off-putting and wrong-seeming to me).

    Is this entirely arbitrary, or is there be something else at work here? I was trying to think of a distinguishing factor, and at first I thought it was whether the verbs is also readily interpreted as a noun, but maybe it has to do with the original distribution of the duplication. In other words, is the duplication a grammatical feature, or is it a word-creating feature? Or are both available processes? Under this hypothesis, in contexts in which the first instance of duplication is in the present tense or involves nouns (things that look like bare infinitives), the duplication gets analyzed as one verb (to like-like for instance) and takes one inflection, but in contexts in which first instance of duplication involves other inflections, the duplication process takes the entire word, inflections and all (offended offended). Then each speaker would have a slightly different, personal distribution for rarely duplicated words, but a more stringent acceptability rating for common duplications.

  17. Michael said,

    January 15, 2012 @ 4:30 am

    BTW — isn't the re in reduplication redundant?

  18. Kenny said,

    January 15, 2012 @ 5:29 am

    Not if there are are three of the same thing. The original is the original, the first copy is a duplication, and the second is a re-duplication. ;)

    Seriously, though, I think the answer is no. In Latin "re" could mean again or back(the adverb, not the bodypart). Etymonline gives the Latin word reduplicare as the root for reduplicate, so it's possible for the "re" to mean either thing, not just the "re" again meaning that's a productive prefix in English. I'm not an expert on the history of these words, and sometimes etymology doesn't account for current meanings, but I would hazard a guess that the "re" in duplication means back as in "duplicate something back onto something".

    For contrast with duplicate, consider that to rape rape is not merely a duplication: It's not interpreted as repeating a word for emphasis or as a stutter. Rape rape is its own term with a meaning more narrow than rape. It's not just duplication–it's duplicating the word back onto itself to create a compound of some kind.

    Reduplication is a process and a term that's pretty well used in Asian languages (which is the context in which I first heard it) and probably other languages. For example, in Chinese (Mandarin) meimei (妹妹) means little sister, though each character/syllable means sister. In Japanese, hitobito (人々[also 人人]) means specifically people plural, even though hito (人) means person or people (Japanese doesn't have different singular and plural forms).

  19. Rodger C said,

    January 15, 2012 @ 1:20 pm

    @Ellen K.: I was referring to the episode in Seven Pillars of Wisdom where he's captured by a Turkish officer who does something or other to him, or else doesn't–Lawrence does his best to obscure the matter. He seems to be trying to say, "Well, I wasn't raped raped raped." I'm afraid my comment was rather silly, let alone obscure, but this passage was well known at one time among people of my age.

  20. Sam said,

    January 16, 2012 @ 9:32 am

    Is it an intensifier or usage of a word within different [semantic] frames.
    Don't Charles Fillmore (in reference to George Lakoff) discuss this issue with the example:
    'She became his mother because he never knew his mother'.

  21. Mary Apodaca said,

    January 16, 2012 @ 12:09 pm

    Doesn't repetition for emphasis often occur in French?

  22. Rob Chametzky said,

    January 16, 2012 @ 4:04 pm

    "Doubles and Modifiers in English," Nancy L. Dray's M.A. thesis, Dept. of Linguistics, University of Chicago, 1987

    deals with this topic and I believe is cited by Ghomeshi et al.


  23. fs said,

    January 17, 2012 @ 1:49 am

    At grading meetings, we have 'done,' which can mean 'done with this problem' — and 'done done done,' which means that the entire homework has been graded and tallied.

    The form 'done done' has been lost but is thought to have meant 'done done done' minus the tallying bit.

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