Volitive polarity items

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Today's Sally Forth:


Negative polarity items have been extensively studied, but I invite readers to point us to studies on phenomena of the type displayed in the last panel.

[Update — some of the examples of "just croak already" from the web:

So Fidel, please – do us all a favor and just croak already so that Cuba may live again.
I sometimes wish she would just croak already…!
Will you just croak already?
It's his fault I'm in this mess to begin with — is it any wonder sons wish their fathers dead? Why can't he just croak already? (from a translation of Molière's L'avare)
Oh, just croak already, you evil repuglican financier.
Yeah, I was actually hoping Big Boss would just croak already…a few times I thought he was gone.
I wish old Teddy would just croak already!
Amy do us all a favor and just croak already.
Why don?t Cheney just croak already? I have never said that about anyone but he has done enough already to bring this country down.
why can't Kim Jong Il just croak already?
Ultimately, though, the show had me fervently wishing that Floyd would just croak already: not exactly a glowing recommendation.
I'm sorry folks, I just have to say it: When will this guy just croak already??? What a bunch of white bread garbage!!!
Given by the same dull principal (why couldn't he just croak already?), in the same, bland auditorium.

Imperatives and "will you __" constructions; complements of wish, hope, etc.; "why doesn't/couldn't/can't" constructions. Commonly used for political leaders, parents, other authority figures. ]



14 Comments

  1. Emily said,

    September 22, 2009 @ 6:18 pm

    I find the construction "just X, already!" interesting. "Already" seems to have a value of something like "as soon as possible" or even "right now", which is quite different to its use in other contexts. Is this primarily an American expression? (I'm British and although I'm quite familiar with it and have used it, there's something foreign about it to me…) Is "already" used with this meaning in other expressions that I've overlooked or that don't occur in my variety of English?

    I was going to note that the construction seems to require the X to be imperative, which might account for the oddness of this negative, but then I realise you can say "he should just X already", so that doesn't work… perhaps it's that the main verb has to be untensed?

  2. John said,

    September 22, 2009 @ 6:36 pm

    It's not the negative that's weird, it's the missing "Why", as in "Why doesn't he just croak already?!" (which just cries out for an interrobang).

  3. Nathan Myers said,

    September 22, 2009 @ 6:50 pm

    John: Q: "What's Ralph doing that's making you so crazy?" A: "It's what he doesn't do, Sal […] He doesn't just croak already!".

    I agree with Emily that "Just croak already" is an odd construction. The use of "already" seems to share something with using "anymore" to mean "nowadays": Ice cream is expensive anymore. It seems divorced from a meaningful context, e.g. Why hasn't he croaked already? (ok) He should have croaked already! (ok) I wish he would croak already! (bzzt).

  4. Tim said,

    September 22, 2009 @ 6:54 pm

    To me, "already" in the "just X, already" construction implies that the action is overdue. So, telling someone to "just croak already" means that you think they ought to have died some time ago, therefore they should do it immediately. As another example, if someone rambles on and on, and you become impatient, you might tell them "get to the point, already".

  5. AJD said,

    September 22, 2009 @ 6:57 pm

    This use of already has been described, I don't know how accurately, as Yiddish influence—Yiddish shoyn, whose basic meaning is 'already', has a bunch of extended uses as a discourse particle, which I think include the use of already seen in this strip. (Weinreich's Yiddish dictionary lists 'at once' as one of the meanings of shoyn.)

    (Positive anymore meaning 'nowadays', on the other hand, is—if I remember correctly—thought to originate from a Scots-Irish variety of English.)

  6. Scott said,

    September 22, 2009 @ 7:42 pm

    Whether or not it's really derived from Yiddish, it's definitely stage-Jewish shtick
    I've heard it used by a Jewish grotesque on a BBC-4 comedy (The program was The Burkiss Way, and the character was a caricature of Lew Grade).

    I'm of that background myself, and, to me, "{verb} already" implies someone should have {verbed} already but hasn't. That's not so different from: someone should {verb} at once. But how does one parse "Enough with the apologies, already"

    "Anymore" meaning "nowadays" is something I never heard 'till moving to the Midwest of the USA (before that, I lived in the Northeast)

  7. Roger Lustig said,

    September 22, 2009 @ 7:47 pm

    Whether from Yiddish shoyn or German schon, the "already" in question is a simple expression of impatience. To express the same thing without "already" one might say, "C'mon, do it!" Or perhaps, "Whaddya waitin' for?"

    Not that the latter isn't tinged with Yinglish irony…

  8. Ralph Hickok said,

    September 22, 2009 @ 7:48 pm

    I think this use of "already" originated with Jewish speakers, often as part of the phrase "enough already," which is a translation of the Yiddish "genug shoyn." I don't know how else "shoyn" might be translated, but it occurs in several other Yiddish phrases, including "gut shoyn," which tends to become "all right already" in English. I think I first heard it in the song "Sue Me," from Guys and Dolls, in which Nathan Detroit sings: "All right already, I'm just a no-goodnik; all right already, it's true, so nu, so sue me."

  9. david said,

    September 23, 2009 @ 1:21 am

    For me it's the use of the simple present that shocks the most. All the other actions that Ralph doesn't do are regular, recurring things. Sal's question is odd because it seems she expects Ralph to croak regularly (like a frog).

    I would use 'won't' in this context, to suggest that he refuses to die. But then the joke would work even less.

  10. Rick S said,

    September 23, 2009 @ 4:44 am

    @david: I think the fact that he regularly keeps showing up not dead is the whole point.

    To me, "already" as a discourse particle has the same function as "For God's sake!"

  11. Bill Bennett said,

    September 23, 2009 @ 5:16 am

    This is one American (OK Yiddish if you must) grammar construction I simply cannot get my head around. To my British-trained ears it just sounds plain wrong.

    But it still sounds wrong to me without the "already".

    I automatically parse "He doesn't just croak" to mean "He does more than croak".

    [(myl) The point of the strip — and of the post — is that the phrase as Alice produces it is infelicitous if not ungrammatical. You need something like "I wish he'd just croak" or "why doesn't he just croak" or "he should just croak".

    The idea in this case, I guess, is that Alice's list of Ralph's failings is really Alice's list of Alice's wishes, which include not having to deal any more with Ralph. Ralph is consistently portrayed as terrible colleague and a worse boss, and Alice is admitting that she doesn't want to try to specify how Ralph should change, she just wants to be rid of him.]

  12. Faldone said,

    September 23, 2009 @ 7:20 am

    Scott said:

    "Anymore" meaning "nowadays" is something I never heard 'till moving to the Midwest of the USA (before that, I lived in the Northeast)

    That's interesting. I grew up in the Midwest (Chicago), lived in Boston, Arizona, and southern California and never heard "anymore" used that way till I got to upstate New York.

  13. AJD said,

    September 23, 2009 @ 8:29 am

    Faldone:

    That's interesting. Although Chicago is indeed outside the area where positive anymore is well-known to be common, I believe upstate New York is outside that area too. Positive anymore is most strongly associated with the so-called Midland—Pennsylvania, central and southern Ohio, southern Illinois—though it extends further south (West Virginia, Kentucky) and west (Kansas, Colorado, Montana) than the Midland proper.

  14. Rick S said,

    September 23, 2009 @ 3:42 pm

    AHD: Really? I grew up in upstate (central) NY, and I think I remember it from that time. Since I've lived in VA for 35 years, I don't hear it so much anymore.

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