"… go all __ on you …"

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Geoff Pullum wrote ("Adverbing, verbing, and adjectiving", 11/5/2014):

… for the most part what you get in the go all ____ on you [frame] is adjective-headed phrases …

While I hardly ever disagree with Geoff, my intuition said otherwise in this case, so I checked.

Searching Google for "go all * on you", the first 50  results I got earlier this morning included 41 nouns or noun phrases

Not to go all sentence fragment on you    [= the mouseover title from the xkcd cartoon]
I promise not to go all hippie on you

Not to go all bridezilla on you,
Not to go all "Reading Rainbow" on you
Not to go all @ezraklein on you guys
Not to go all #SCOTUS on you
Not to Go All FJM On You
Not to go all b56 on you
Not to go all Herm Edwards on you 
Not to go all pet-hipster on you 
not to go all Bob Woodward on you
Not to go all Green Police on you
Not to go all bubblegum-pop-psychology on you
I'm not going to go all Dr. Seuss on you
I'm not going to go all fanboy on you
Not to go all mom on you
Not to go all therapist on you,
Not to go all @si_vault on you
Not to Go All Lenin on You
not to go all Dothraki on you
Not to go all Yoda on you all
Not to go all DeYoung on you
Not to go all scientist on you
Do not compel me to go all Kamehameha on you
I really hate to go all nineties DIY girl on you
It can be hard to find mineral/crystal links that don't go all chakra on you
Hurt my friends or Justin and I'll go all ninja on you!
I'm going to go all English major on you for a second
The point of all of this nostalgic goo wasn't to go all “Throwback Thursday” on you all
if you can speak the language you will have no idea what he is saying and will be expecting him to go all Jackie Chan on you
I hate to go all Jason Garrett on you here,
Don't make me go all Rambo on you, Pedro!
I have no choice to go all Peabody and Sherman on you
sorry to go all psychotherapy on you.

Seven adjectives or adjective phrases:

Not To Go All Political On You
Not to go all commercial on you
Not to go all sentimental and metaphorical on you
I'm not trying to go all emo on you guys here
not to go all partisan on you
Not to go all cheesy on you
I'm not going to go all AWOL on you
sorry to go all electric on you

And one WTF:

Not to go all why on you

 So it looks to me like Geoff was a little too kind to Randall Munroe when he wrote

… perhaps it would have been safer for a real language nerd to say (I just)predicative-complemented 'language nerd'. But for the most part what you get in the go all ____ on you is adjective-headed phrases, so (I just) adjectived 'language nerd' is arguably accurate.

The go all __ on you frame does take predicative complements, as Geoff says — but in the wild, 80% of them or more are noun-headed rather than adjective-headed.


  1. Ginger Yellow said,

    November 6, 2014 @ 1:27 pm

    I knew this was going to be appearing on LL and I too had a different intuition from Geoff's: that "go all" is more commonly used with a noun phrase and that's what "language nerd" was in the comic. I don't really have a lot to add to the discussion other than that, I'm afraid, but obviously I couldn't post my disagreement under the original post.

  2. Mark Meckes said,

    November 6, 2014 @ 2:07 pm

    My personal intuition is that Geoff Pullum's claim is not currently accurate, but would have been accurate some time (a few decades, maybe?) ago. What I suspect is that the "go all __ on you" frame originally took only (or mostly) adjective-headed complements, and that early uses with noun-headed complements were conceived by the writers/speakers as adjectiving the noun phrases. But I have no idea how to go about checking that guess.

  3. ALB said,

    November 6, 2014 @ 3:07 pm

    It'd be interesting to find out when this first appeared (which would likely be revealed by the investigation that Mark Meckes hints at). There must also be variants. Off the top of my head, I can think of "go all ___ on your ass" or even "get ___ on your ass". Although this second "frame" may likely crop up with the adjective "medieval" relatively frequently – does it originate from Pulp Fiction? – a quick search shows there are also some noun-headed complements in the mix too (as well as a large amount of irrelevant results – maybe "gonna get ___ on your ass" would yield more relevant results).

  4. Theophylact said,

    November 6, 2014 @ 3:14 pm

    The version of this I'm most familiar with is "go all medieval on", meaning "beat the **** out of".

  5. Marek said,

    November 6, 2014 @ 3:37 pm

    Google Ngrams offers some insights. I don't want to paste an incredibly long link with the results, but feel free to go to https://books.google.com/ngrams/ and look up [go all * on]. The asterisk will be substituted for top 10 n-grams matching the pattern.

    The top one is 'go all out on', but other match the pattern in question: 'go all mushy', 'go all soft', 'go all weepy', 'go all weird', 'go all sentimental' (+ 'on'). So it appears adjectives were there first.

    The earliest mentions for these specific n-grams are incidental (e.g. 'go all soft on the spot'), but the actual 'go all _ on' construction kicks off in the 70's, e.g. "at least he doesn't go all weepy on us" (Old Time Music, 1976).

  6. Marek said,

    November 6, 2014 @ 3:47 pm

    Just one more note:

    This construction is probably a mix of two pre-existing patterns: 1. "go (all) (adjective)" & 2. "(verb phrase) on (someone)", as in "don't you die on me".

    One more mystery remains: when did nouns started being used in the same context? I have no idea.

  7. cs said,

    November 6, 2014 @ 4:19 pm

    Would it make any sense to say that the phrase after "all" is functioning as an adjective, even if it is a noun phrase, in the sense that it provides a description of the person?

  8. Michael Watts said,

    November 6, 2014 @ 5:03 pm

    Sure, as much sense as it makes to say that in the sentence "He's a lawyer", "lawyer" is functioning as an adjective, even though it's a noun phrase, in the sense that it provides a description of the person.

    Personally, I don't think that makes enough sense that you should do it; "providing a description of the noun phrase" is the whole concept of "predicative complement" anyway. But we can still note that predicative complements might be noun phrases or they might be adjective phrases.

    On a different but related note, I remember finding a video online of someone going around in Japan interviewing Japanese people with banal questions, and after getting them to talk for a bit he'd ask them to repeat what they'd said in English. One girl, who'd been talking about how her dad resembled some pop-culture character called Giba-chan, obviously struggled to come out with the English "My father is very Giba-chan", which I found to be surprisingly (and, to all appearances, coincidentally) idiomatic.

  9. Michael Watts said,

    November 6, 2014 @ 5:04 pm

    correction: in my first paragraph, I should say that the phrase "a lawyer" is functioning as an adjective — not "lawyer" by itself.

  10. Guy said,

    November 6, 2014 @ 5:26 pm


    The preferred terminology for what you describe is "predicative complement". Linguists wouldn't usually say "functioning as an adjective" because that conflates lexical category (part of speech) with function (what the phrase is doing in the clause.

    Examples of predicative complements (bracketed):

    He is [tall].
    He became [President].
    He seems [angry].
    I consider him [a friend].


    Predicative complements are usually either adjective phrases or noun phrases. Exactly what types of complements are permissible varies depending on the verb or other licensing construction.

  11. Guy said,

    November 6, 2014 @ 5:50 pm

    The distinction between category and function might seem a little ephemeral at first but I think it helps (especially in the case of phrases) to picture a tree diagram of the syntactic structure. A phrase corresponds to a node in the tree. If you "cut" the tree at that node, the part of the structure branching out to show the internal structure corresponds roughly to "category" and the part of the tree that shows the environment the phrase "lives in" corresponds roughly to function.

    This distinction might seem a little strange at the word level, since the internal structure is just a single word, but you can think of that as just a special case of the idea of a phrase category where the internal structure is very simple, consisting solely of a "label". This label (the lexical category) is like a marker that you reference to decide whether it can fill a particular function. These categories are usually – at the general level – somewhat rough. Usually adjectives are freely usable both as attributive modifiers and a predicative complements, but there are exceptions.

    "Mere" cannot be a predicative complement:
    "It was done by a mere child" is grammatical but not *"That child is mere".

    "Asleep" cannot be an attributive modifier:
    "The baby is asleep" but not *"The asleep baby"

    In principle you could specify the syntactic properties of each word individually but the utility of lexical categories is to allow you to make rough generalizations.

  12. cs said,

    November 6, 2014 @ 7:05 pm

    Thanks, that is helpful. But still, I have a vague notion that the phrase in "go all___ on you" is acting more like an adjective and less like a noun in some sense.

    If you say "she is a lawyer" or "I consider him a friend", you are saying that the person is one of those objects (a lawyer or a friend). But if you say "he went all therapist on her", you are not calling him a therapist, you are just saying he has therapist-like qualities, which seems more like the function usually performed by an adjective. Maybe it is a grammatically meaningless distinction, I don't know.

  13. Guy said,

    November 6, 2014 @ 7:37 pm

    Yes, that's a secondary way in which noun phrases are used as predicative complements, as in

    She's quite the mathematician.
    You might be the next James Dean.
    I didn't realize what a jerk he was.
    He's no Albert Einstein.

    I'm not aware that there's any syntactic distinction to be drawn here on the basis of function, although there is a semantic difference – we're definitely looking at predicative complements. As for internal structure, grammatical categories aren't usually drawn on semantic grounds except as a "tie-breaker" where the syntactic features are ambiguous, but here it's pretty clear that the syntactic structures of the phrases are essentially the same as those where they have more "nouny" functions such as subject or object – they are headed by nouns, can take attributive modifiers according to the same rules as other noun phrases, the heads cannot be modified directly by -ly adverbs, etc. as far as what types of sequences of words can form the phrases go, they are nouns. The difference in interpretation is a feature of the grammatical construction, not the categories and functions of the elements. Just like we intrerpret the meaning of the interrogative clause in "I asked him why he did it" differently from "He told me why he did it", or how in "I'm angry with him" the preposition phrase "with him" means something different from what it does in "I went skiing with him".

  14. cs said,

    November 6, 2014 @ 7:48 pm

    Consider the phrase "My father is very Giba-chan" from Michael Watts' comment above. It is not correct (in formal English at least) because a noun is used when an adjective is required. If a native speaker said it, I would think they were trying to be a little humorous and slangy. You might even say that they had adjectived a noun.

    I think maybe the noun phrase in "go all ___ on you" has a similar feeling to it, although it seems much more correct, because it is commonly used I guess.

  15. Alex said,

    November 6, 2014 @ 7:55 pm

    Not to get all technical on you, but –

    "get all * on you" returns a lot of adjective (phrases) – even ones that are clearly nouns-turned-adjective ("get all spoilery on you" is one on the first page of hits).

    Maybe there's some difference in get vs. go.

  16. Guy said,

    November 6, 2014 @ 7:59 pm

    I realize in "what a jerk he was" it's arguable that "a jerk" has it's "default" interpretation, but semantics is always fuzzy, and I think it's important to note that here one semantic affinity with being an adjective is that we conceptualize the property as gradable – we frame it as positive for one person to be more of a jerk than another.

    You might also want to consider "he is like Jackie Chan" – semantically, the ultimate role of Jackie Chan is comparable to that in "he went all Jackie Chan", but it wouldn't be productive or useful to privilege this fact above the syntactic properties of the structures by reclassifying "Jackie Chan" as an adjective.

    To see what I'm getting at, consider "he went all large scaly reptile with razor-sheep teeth on my ass".

    If we classify the phrase as an adjective, we have put ourselves in the awkward position of identifying a monstrously complex compound word that we claim lacks syntactic structure even though it obviously is syntactically analyzable as a noun phrase. If we classify it as an adjective phrase, we are saying that adjective phrases can be structurally identical to noun phrases but that this second category of adjective phrase has a completely different distribution from ordinary adjective phrases. But this second approach essentially eliminates the whole idea of having phrasal categories separated from the notion of function, when we adopted this distinction in the first place to allow us to eloquently describe situations just like this one.

  17. Guy said,

    November 6, 2014 @ 8:02 pm

    As for "My father is very Giba-chan", noun phrases usually can't take "very" as a pre-determiner.

  18. Guy said,

    November 6, 2014 @ 8:14 pm

    If a construction of the form "he's very [thing formed exactly like a noun phrase]" became prevalent and highly productive to the point of being an established structure, the noun phrase would still be a noun phrase, and the question is how it should be analyzed. Depending on the distribution of "very [noun phrase]", we might say that very has acquired a second usage as a preposition, much like "like" – and note the semantic content of "very" in this usage and "like" would be nearly identical.

  19. Michael Watts said,

    November 6, 2014 @ 8:28 pm

    More thoughts on "My father is very Giba-chan":

    Obviously, this was produced by a non-native speaker, so it isn't itself evidence for any constructions in English.

    But, it sounded like natural English to me anyway; that's why I found it so charming. However, as I parse it, "Giba-chan" isn't an adjective phrase (despite the very) or a noun phrase; it's what I remember either CGEL of language log referring to as an "arbitrary string of words" used as a descriptor. Compare "He gave me that I'm-going-to-kill-you look". So, to me, the following sentence (discounting the added frame) is syntactically parallel to "My father is very Giba-chan":

    You could try taking it to Bob, but he's very "I don't talk to people below me in the org chart".

  20. Brett said,

    November 6, 2014 @ 9:43 pm

    @Guy: Using "the asleep baby" sounds fine to me—slightly stilted, but definitely grammatical.

  21. Adverb and Adverbial | Arnold Zwicky's Blog said,

    November 7, 2014 @ 8:35 am

    […] claims that it's Adjective, but Mark Liberman (in "… go all ___ on you …" of 11/6) disputed […]

  22. Dennis Paul Himes said,

    November 7, 2014 @ 10:34 am

    In Pullum's original post he wrote:

    *I don't want to go all crying my eyes out on you.

    with the asterisk presumably marking it as ungrammatical/unacceptable. However, it sounds perfectly fine to me (60 y.o. speaker of Western New England American English).

  23. Guy said,

    November 7, 2014 @ 11:08 am


    The "a-" adjectives (etymologically derived from prepositional phrases that have been compounded) such as asleep, awake, afraid, ajar, aghast, agog, etc. are usually restricted for most speakers so that they cannot be in attributive modifier function, and this is reflected in the data of actual speech and written usage. Some, such as "aplenty", can function semantically like attributive modifies, but must appear as post-positives like multiword preposition phrases: "There will be apples aplenty" not * "there will be aplenty apples".

    I've always thought this class of words was an interesting case because the etymological history (perhaps reinforced by morphology) hasn't yet eroded away in standard usage even though there seems to be little reason for the restriction to remain.

  24. Theophylact said,

    November 7, 2014 @ 11:14 am

    On the Reuters web site today:

    "He went Hannibal Lecter on the woman, he gouged her eyeball out, ate them and ate half her face," the South Wales Evening Post quoted Lyn Beasley as saying.

  25. Coby Lubliner said,

    November 7, 2014 @ 12:04 pm

    The commenters on "very Giba-chan" seem to foget that "very" can be an attributive adjective, as in "the very model of a modern major-general." True, it's usually preceded by "the" (though Shakespeare wrote "Like very sanctity, she did approach" in The Winter's Tale), but speakers of Japanese (and other languages devoid of a definite article) are often confused about when to use it.

  26. J. W. Brewer said,

    November 7, 2014 @ 2:16 pm

    Coby L.: I think the Shakespeare/G&S use of "very" is somewhat archaic, although it may survive in fixed phrases like "the very thing." For example, the traditional English translations of the Nicene Creed have "Very God of very God" (corresponding to the Latin "Deum verum de Deo vero") but more recent translations tend to have "true God of true God."

    The Giba-chan example strikes me as more like the usage in this presumably native-speaker sentence (although informal-register tainted with journalese?) I just googled up: "Looking very Stevie Nicks, Welch graced the flower littered stage and joined The Machine, which includes harp player Tom Monger."

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