All ADJ and shit

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Howard Oakley ("Birth of a new English phrase", 1/23/2015) was struck by the phrase "all proper and shit", in the context of a tweet by Christopher Phin noting that "[choice of printing mode] makes my writing seem all proper and shit". So Howard investigated the history of that four-word sequence by means of various web search tools.

I strongly support the combination of linguistic curiosity and empirical methods, but in this case, I'm puzzled by the fact that Howard saw the phrase as novel. As far as I can see, "all proper and shit" is a syntactically, semantically, and pragmatically compositional combination of two constructions that have existed in English for hundreds of years.

Among the many ways to say et cetera or et similia, it's common to find

and things|stuff|crap|shit|junk like that

or just

and such|stuff|whatnot|all|so on

In particular, the two-word phrase and stuff has been a common deprecatory continuation for  several hundred years:

Historical collections of private passages of state, weighty matters in law, remarkable proceedings in five parliaments: Beginning the sixteenth year of King James, anno 1618, and ending the fifth year of King Charles, anno 1629:

Furthermore it is also humbly informed by the said Marshal, That upon the twenty second of March last, by a like Warrant from the Lord Conway, he did search the Bishop's Prison, called the new Prison in Maiden-lane in London, where he found six several Priests prisoners in several Chambers, and Altar, with all Furniture thereto belonging, with Church-Books and Stuff, which were as much as three Porters could carry away, and it is now in the hands of the Lord Conway.

Jonathan Swift, "The Grand Question Debated: A Barrack or A Malthouse" (The Gentleman's Magazine and Monthly Intelligencer, Feb. 1732):

A scholard, when just for the college broke loose,
Can hardly tell how to cry bo to a goose,
Your Novids, and Bludurks, and Omers, and stuff,
By G_d, they don't signify this pinch of snuff.
To give a young gentleman right education,
The army's the the very best school in the nation.

John Neal, Randolph (1823):

Besides, after admitting the merit of the writer, the dramatick distinctness of his characters; for, after all, that is his chief, if not his only merit, for there is nothing remarkable in his style; — there are so many drawbacks, so much trash — so many chapters of tiresome pedantry — horology — law — heraldry — history — and stuff, relative to individuals, that can be interesting only to those who know the parties, that I should not fear to utter the prediction, solely on that ground. 

Since stuff has been used at least since the 16th century to mean (what the OED glosses as) "Matter of an unspecified kind"; and similarly used since the 17th century to mean (what the OED glosses as) "What is worthless; rubbish", the phrase and stuff, glossed by the OED as "and such-like useless or uninteresting matters", was a natural development.

As such phrases become common, it's also natural for their deprecatory connotations to gradually bleach out, so that by now and stuff is just a more informal way to say "and so on". And even its syntactic status (as the end of a conjunction of nouns) has optionally faded out, so that it can be used to vague-ify adjectives and verbs as well:

Corky's Brother (Novel, 1969):  They got along real well, laughing and stuff, but Pa never did say much to her, except to ask what he could do for her.

Sincerity Forever (Play, 1990): First I had a crush on him because I thought he was cute and stuff.

And there's some indication that and stuff has increased in frequency over the past 50 years or so:

Since shit has also been used for a long time to mean (what the OED glosses as) "Rubbish, trash; something regarded as worthless", it was a natural substitute for stuff in such phrases. Thus the OED glosses and shit as "and so on; and similar stuff. Also used simply for emphasis", with citations back to 1965:

1965   C. Brown Manchild in Promised Land xiv. 333   They have their bakeries, their groceries, their delicatessens, and shit, but they don't have a lot of bars and liquor stores.
1986   D. A. Dye Platoon (1987) vi. 109   Look at them papers… That looks like maps and shit.

Because shit is a taboo word, it's hard to know how long this usage has been around, but I'm certain that and shit was used in just that way when I was growing up in the 1950s.

But again, there's some evidence that and shit has been increasing in frequency, parallel to and stuff:

And then there's all in OED sense C.1.a. "With a past participle, adjective, or (later also) adjectival phrase: wholly, completely, entirely; altogether, quite; fully; (later also in somewhat weakened use) to a strikingly large extent; very much".

The OED's earliest citation is

OE   Genesis B 756   Hit is nu Adame eall forgolden.

Some later cites:

1548   W. Turner Names of Herbes sig. B.iijv,   It [sc. Asparagus] maye be called in englishe pricky Sperage, because it is all full of pryckes.
1611   Bible (King James) Nahum iii. 1   Woe to the bloody City, it is all full of lyes and robberie.
1648   R. Herrick Hesperides sig. L8,   Lips she has, all Rubie red.
1671   in M. P. Brown Suppl. Dict. Decisions Court of Session (1826) II. 704   When first shown it was most white and tight, the next time it was all sullied, rankled, and torn.
[…]
1921   M. E. Stone Fifty Years Journalist vii. 355   To me it seemed all wrong.

So "all proper and shit" simply combines the adjectival intensification of "all wrong" with the conjunctive fuzzification of "cute and stuff". It should be no surprise that the 1973 movie script Don't Play Us Cheap has

Brother Luther rat does not dig that jive one bit — Irresponsible Imps coming down and getting innocent bystanding rats and roaches who haven't done a thing all squashed and stuff.

Or that the 2005 novel Hissy Fit has

Once we're married, it won't be as much fun as this. We'll be all legal and stuff.

The residual deprecatory tinge of and stuff|shit adds a tang of irony to such phrases, which is clear in the "makes my writing seem all proper and shit" example that Howard picked up on in the first place. But like the rest of this phrase's form and meaning, the irony seems to me to be a predictable function of the parts that it's made from.

Could this particular word sequence have become an idiom, all the same? Maybe, but it'll take more than a few examples to persuade me. There are quite a few other adjectives that are more common than proper in the frame "all __ and shit": sweaty, funny, ready, open, messed up, confused, …

 



23 Comments

  1. AB said,

    January 24, 2015 @ 9:38 am

    Nothing remarkable about the phrase to my ears. But I would assume Phin is a Brit using "all proper" like that. Is Oakley American?

  2. Bob Ladd said,

    January 24, 2015 @ 9:55 am

    One thing that doesn't come through from searches of written texts is the intonation. The usage that MYL finds unexceptional pretty much has to have the main accent on the content word that precedes the phrase and stuff / shit , so that in a normal statement we'd have all proper spoken with a peak and falling pitch on proper and and shit spoken on low pitch. It may be that this is the usage that has increased since the 1960s. The older examples that MYL cites, especially the 1823 quote, seem more likely to have had an intonational accent on stuff.

    I also agree with AB that all proper is more likely Brit. than Am. If Oakley missed the intonation on and shit and failed to catch all the nuances behind Brit. all proper, it's not surprising he might have thought he was dealing with something new.

  3. MT Welles said,

    January 24, 2015 @ 10:58 am

    Growing up in eastern Long Island, I remember this phrase from high school in the 80s as a sort of an insult. (For what it's worth, we thought the phrase started with the black kids but everyone in the school used it.)

    If a girl came in with a showy bow in her hair and someone thought she looked silly, they might say, "Look at her, trying to be all cute and shit." If I used a difficult vocabulary word in a conversation someone might say, "Look at you, trying to be all educated and shit."

    Another usage was sarcasm. I remember a teacher once getting angry at a student and saying sarcastically "Yeah, sorry for trying to make you all smart and sh–…stuff."

  4. David Denison said,

    January 24, 2015 @ 11:01 am

    Pichler, Heike & Stephen Levey. 2011. In search of grammaticalization in synchronic dialect data: General extenders in north-east England. English Language & Linguistics 15(3): 441-471.

    might have some useful material, though they don't seem to cover the particular 'extender' and shit.
    DD

    [(myl) There's also this.]

  5. TonyK said,

    January 24, 2015 @ 12:24 pm

    "All proper and shit" sounds like a mid-Atlantic chimera: "all proper" is British, but "and shit" is definitely not English English. Perhaps this is what piqued Mr Oakley's interest.

    Christopher Phin writes "colour", not "color" — see e.g. http://chrisphin.com/blog/melanzane/. So he can't be from the US. But he might be Scottish. Is "and shit" common north of the border?

  6. AB said,

    January 24, 2015 @ 12:37 pm

    Hmm Tony. "And shit" certainly seems pretty common in London English. My friends and I used it a lot when we were teenagers (early noughties) because we thought it made us sound hard. Is this a generational thing?

  7. Eric P Smith said,

    January 24, 2015 @ 12:43 pm

    @TonyK:

    Is "and shit" common north of the border?"

    Yes. And indeed Christopher Phin is Scottish: A Scot talks about scotch.

  8. Bob Ladd said,

    January 24, 2015 @ 12:48 pm

    Thanks to David Denison for the Pichler and Levey reference. It appears there is quite a literature on "extenders" like and stuff, which certainly reinforces MYL's point that we are not looking at the birth of a new phrase in English.

    Pichler and Levey draw a distinction between short extenders (like and stuff) and long ones (like and stuff like that), which I think will correlate very strongly with the distinction I mentioned in my earlier comment, namely whether the extender bears an intonational accent or follows in the intonational tail of the accented adjective. We might call these "tonic" and "post-tonic" extenders, and my intuition is that most short extenders are post-tonic and most long ones are tonic. I don't know if there is any corpus data on this, because most of the relevant corpora are written.

    Incidentally, there are many examples of the short extender and all in The Catcher in the Rye, and they are most convincingly rendered as post-tonic.

  9. Howard Oakley said,

    January 24, 2015 @ 1:10 pm

    Thank you – very informative and illuminating. Christopher may be Scottish by birth but his writing bears little evidence of Scots usage; he and I both speak and write middle class British English, and both of us are freelancers for the computer press.
    As I wrote in my blog, I saw this phrase in his tweet as being so startling that I initially assumed that it was a typo, and the "shit" had been intended to be something different.
    Whilst familiar with uses of "shit" which are non-deprecatory, it struck me as an unusual use where the clear intent was good – hence the quick run to Google.
    In my defence, Ngrams returns a blank for all the "all x and shit", "all proper and stuff" and other related combinations, which suggests that at least in print these are unusual uses. The great majority of the hits that regular Google searches return seem to be American English, and most of those appear to be from African Americans, hence my thought that this might have spilled over from more common African American usage, and made the trip across the Atlantic. (Although I appreciate that most of the pages searched are of course in American English.)
    Sadly, as is so common with the Internet, there is never any information on intonation.
    Finally, I notice that contrary to many runs with Google Ngram, "all proper and" seems to have been in steady decline since the mid 1800s, and over my lifetime in British English we seem to be using "proper" less. But that is probably just a social trend!
    Howard.

  10. GH said,

    January 24, 2015 @ 1:17 pm

    As further support for "all X and shit" being used in contemporary "English English," take this Armstrong & Miller sketch:

    "They is well hard-core with all pockets and shit."

  11. John Lawler said,

    January 24, 2015 @ 2:49 pm

    George Carlin — the only linguist to have his theories upheld by the U.S. Supreme court — has a story on the stuff/shit beat already.

  12. Howard Oakley said,

    January 24, 2015 @ 4:28 pm

    GH – a fascinating clip, thank you.
    The trouser-purchasing character is actually quoting what might be a modern African-Caribbean English market description. I would be most surprised to read a tweet from a colleague like Christopher Phin containing "they is well hard-core with all pockets and shit" unless he was doing so for effect. He clearly was not in his original tweet.
    Howard.

  13. TonyK said,

    January 25, 2015 @ 4:43 am

    @AB: Then it must be a generational thing. London English has changed an awful lot in two decades!

  14. maidhc said,

    January 25, 2015 @ 4:55 am

    I don't know about dates, but "get your shit together" is a related usage. Shit meaning stuff. Perhaps an origin in something like "Are you really planning to bring all that shit along?" I suspect a WWI origin, since that was a time when a lot of ridiculous transportation was done.

    "Stuff" also has a technical meaning as unprocessed cloth. But with citations going back to the 16th c. for the more general usage, it's hard to say this would be the original meaning.

  15. michael farris said,

    January 25, 2015 @ 5:48 am

    To my ears "all proper and shit" sounds like it could be AAVE, but I'm not an AAVE specialist.

    Quick googling finds the expression in probable AAVE contexts.

  16. Kevin K. said,

    January 26, 2015 @ 12:41 am

    The three historical examples from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries all use "and stuff" as a way of continuing a list of nouns, which is one way that the modern usage differs.

    [(myl) As I said, "… its syntactic status (as the end of a conjunction of nouns) has optionally faded out, so that it can be used to vague-ify adjectives and verbs as well".]

    Furthermore, I don't think that the examples given from the 17th and 19th centuries are actually using "and stuff" to mean "et cetera"; rather, it appears to me that "and stuff" is within the scope of the following relative pronoun, i.e. "and stuff, which were as much as three porters could carry away" and "and stuff..that can be interesting." As such, it would seem to me that the "et cetera" sense of "and stuff" was very rare before the twentieth century before becoming more popular and, as a result, expanding to be able to modify not only nouns but also verbs and adjectives.

    [(myl) Some 19th-century examples that may be more convincing:

    (from 1899 court testimony): But these leaves and sticks and such things you speak of were not scraped down together, they were scraped down to the bottom of the hill and these leaves and stuff was all scraped into the dirt I had already been over some time before that.

    (from 1891 court testimony): The dirt and sod and stuff I should think had been put in next to this log within six months, except at the two extremities of the log.

    (from an 1887 narrative): They first looked up at the rock, and said a lot of poetry and stuff; and then they went through under it, and said some more poetry and stuff; and then they mounted up the ladder, and walked about on the top, and said some more poetry and stuff; and they came down and turned round, and looked up at it again, and said some more poetry and stuff; and then they bade me good day and went away, all the while repeating more poetry and stuff.

    (from an 1876 story): Oh, what is the good of your poetry and stuff if it only makes you enjoy the sight of another person working — doing what you ought to have done !

    (from 1865 court testimony): Clarkson street, some portion of it, not all, has a good deal of ashes and stuff frozen in with the ice.

    (from an 1847 history): The same day, the lady Fitzharding having superintended the dinner of the young prince, her charge, sailed out of the room with Lewis Jenkins carrying her train; while they were proceeding thus down stairs, to the apartment of the princess, the courtly dame, turning her head over her shoulder, said disdainfully to the obsequious squire performing the office of her train-bearer, "Lewis, I find you pretend to give the duke notions of mathematics and stuff."

    (from an 1844 novel): Scarce were the words spoken when more than a dozen stout hearts, old and young, started forth, threw cloaks and stuff upon the ground, and tying their swords and matchlocks to their backs, in drawers and vest alone, sprung towards the rock.

    I have no evidence about relative frequency, and the earlier quotations suggest that it was an informal usage, but I (and the OED) think it's clear that it was established well before the 20th century.]

  17. mgh said,

    January 26, 2015 @ 6:57 am

    I associate it with tough-talking rappers, in the phrase "be getting all X and shit".

    I'm not sure why the "be getting" part is dropped sometimes, but I think "all proper and shit" is meant in this vein.

  18. Alan Palmer said,

    January 26, 2015 @ 9:05 am

    Some explanation of the Armstrong and Miller sketch: this is one of a regular series of sketches on their eponymous The Armstrong and Miller Show. They are dressed as and talk with the accents of British WWII pilots (at least, as portrayed in films made in the twentieth century) but they use modern-day British 'street' slang in speech. This has been dubbed 'multiethnic youth vernacular' and comprises elements from Afro-Caribbean, African and Indian slang, among others.

    I am far too old to know modern youth slang but I do know it can seem impenetrable to many older folks, innit.

  19. Alec said,

    January 27, 2015 @ 5:08 pm

    In the first quotation ("Church-Books and Stuff") I wonder if Stuff does not have the more specific meaning of "material for making garments; woven material of any kind" (attested in 1462 in the Concise OED).

  20. nbm said,

    January 27, 2015 @ 6:13 pm

    I am dying to know who those precious 1887 visitors spouting their endless poetry and stuff were.

  21. Sweary links – Strong Language said,

    January 30, 2015 @ 12:26 am

    […] "As far as I can see, 'all proper and shit' is a syntactically, semantically, and pragmatically compositional combination of two constructions that have existed in English for hundreds of years." Language Log's Mark Liberman considers a shitty idiom. […]

  22. Tom Kenny said,

    January 30, 2015 @ 4:18 am

    Love your post. Here's a book for your research shelf:

    http://www.amazon.com/Whales-Candlelight-Stuff-Like-That/dp/0195125746

    It's a good analysis of discourse and a fun read.

  23. Matt Kohl said,

    February 3, 2015 @ 9:17 am

    Great piece! Thanks v much for posting.

    mgh, michael farris, et al.: see The Right Rhymes for a catalog of and shit usage in hip-hop lyrics.

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