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Back in March, Lauren Spradlin gave a wonderful talk at PLC 39, under the title  "OMG the Word-Final Alveopalatals are Cray-Cray Prev: A Morphophonological Account of Totes Constructions in English". It's been on my to-blog list ever since.

Totes, of course, is a clipped form of totally, which can be found is exchanges like this one:

A: Yo, I'm totes starving. I could totes eat a horse right now.  
B: Yeah, totes feel you man. I'm totes hungry too.  
A: I totes know this totes pimp place we could eat.  
B: We should totes hit it up then.  
A: Totes.  
B: Totes.

This (I think simulated) example of "totestalatarianism" comes from a Totes Truncation site that Lauren set up to hold the appendices for a paper of the same name as her PLC talk.

But the point of her analysis is not the totes usage itself, as striking as it sometimes is, but rather the pattern of abbreviation that often spreads to other words in the totes phrase: "totes emosh", "totes adorb", "totes atrosh", "totes apprope", "totes unfortch". Mix in a final /s/ and maybe some expressive palatalization, and you've got "totes arbz" (< arbitrary), "totes inevs" (< inevitable), "totes awesh" (< awesome), "totes impresh" (< impressive).

Of course, the abbreviations happen independent of totes-ing. Some examples from Lauren's appendices:

What a fab thing to say! Makes us feel spesh
So anx to get to the farm mark today! Do they charge admish?
Feelin' nostalj tonight.
these hurricane condishies are treach

She observes that these clippings' "best-­formed codas are as heavy as possible", as attested by examples like presumpsh, scrumpsh, pumpk.

Here's a sketch of the history, from Lauren's presentation:

Although the subject matter is topical and often amusing, Lauren's work is a a serious piece of morpho-phonological analysis, and I look forward to seeing a fuller version.

Update — There's an earlier discussion of totes-ology at Taylor Jones' blog: "Obs is phonological and it's totes legit", 5/26/2014.


  1. Joe Mc Kay said,

    May 9, 2015 @ 2:25 pm

    sounds like an "umbrella" term to me!

  2. Joe Mc Kay said,

    May 9, 2015 @ 2:27 pm

    so why, I wonder, don't they simply say "tote" …. it actually works better for speaking.
    [(myl) There's the goal of making the coda (syllable-end) as heavy as possible, which motivates adding /s/ or /ʃ/. Also, it's cute.]

  3. Matthew said,

    May 9, 2015 @ 2:44 pm

    In late-'70s Toronto, I and kids of my acquaintance would say that something we thought was great was "ex". Short for "excellent".

  4. J.W. Brewer said,

    May 9, 2015 @ 2:45 pm

    My impression (confirmed by a comparison of raw ghit totals, which I know is unreliable) is that the standard clipped form of "adorable" is "adorbs" (or, in combination, "totes adorbs"), with "adorb" being a minority variant. Although I guess the adorbs:adorb ratio might vary by speech community. (FWIW, probably most usages I have seen have been respectable suburban matrons aged at least 35 or 40 exclaiming in a social-media context over cute pictures of someone else's children.) Presumably the -s in adorbs is produced by the same process that generates the final -s in "totes"? If a well-formed coda requires a consonant cluster, maybe -s gets added to what would otherwise be a single-consonant coda to make it heavier?

    {(myl) Yes, I think this explanation is consistent with Lauren Spradlin's observation that there seems to be a goal of maximizing the heaviness of the coda. Also, a final /s/ or /ʃ/ makes a previous stop more perceptually salient than it would otherwise be, which helps clarify what the clipped word was.]

  5. Micah said,

    May 9, 2015 @ 3:46 pm

    "Posish" as slang for "position" is an older bit of slang that seems to follow exactly this pattern. Wodehouse uses it every so often, and here's a baseball dictionary which claims that it goes back as far as 1864.

  6. Jacob said,

    May 9, 2015 @ 4:04 pm

    Rodgers and Hart did it in "The Lady Is a Tramp" (1937): "I'm broke, it's oke."

  7. Roger Lustig said,

    May 9, 2015 @ 7:23 pm

    @Joe McKay: that caused some trouble when they tried the German market.

  8. nemanja said,

    May 9, 2015 @ 8:59 pm

    Totes magotes is my favorite one of these, esp. since it lends itself to some nice visual puns on "goats".

    [(myl) From Lauren's collection:


  9. Martin J Ball said,

    May 10, 2015 @ 12:48 am

    Surely palatoalveolars (or postalveolars) not alveopalatals?

  10. maidhc said,

    May 10, 2015 @ 2:56 am

    It really doesn't pay to be a gloomy pill
    It's absolutely most ridic
    Positively sill
    The rain may pitter patter
    It really doesn't matter
    For life can be delish
    With a sunny disposish

    Jean Goldkette Orchestra – Sunny Disposish (1927)

    There were several popular recordings of this song in 1927 and later. This one sounds like it has Eddie Lang on guitar. Bix also played with the Goldkette group, but not on this one, I think.

  11. Ralph Hickok said,

    May 10, 2015 @ 7:18 am

    The verse to Ira Gershwin's "S'wonderful":

    Don't mind telling you, in my humble fash
    That you thrill me through, with a tender pash,
    When you said you care, 'magine my emoshe
    I swore then and there, permanent devoshe,
    You made all other men seem blah
    Just you alone filled me with ahhhhhhhh……

    [(myl) Ella Fitzgerald's version:

    Interesting that this kind of clipping was fashionable in the 1920s, and then again 80 years later. Though there were plenty of more isolated cases (fave, abs, congrats, execs, legit, etc., in between. What seems to be special is the license to apply the process productively and frequently.]

  12. Bloix said,

    May 10, 2015 @ 1:49 pm

    During the Civil War, among Union soldiers (and sometimes among Confederates as well) the word for Confederates was "secesh" – as an adjective, a singular noun, and a plural noun. Some examples from a quick google books search:

    At Danville there are several secesh prisoners. Some of them are bridge burners who will most probably be shot.

    I seen dead secesh and Union men all lying together some tore to pieces by cannon balls and shells but most of the secesh was shot in the head by our rifles …

    We do not know how it happens nor by whose order it comes pass but it is nevertheless a fact that our city [Columbus, Ohio] is turned over to "Secesh" to such a degree as to make our street and hotels more resemble Richmond than a loyal city of the Northwest.

  13. Pflaumbaum said,

    May 10, 2015 @ 5:38 pm

    @ Micah

    Re Wodehousian "poshish" – upper-class BrE also used to have the similar "delish", among others.

    Current today – though not limited to that demographic:

    Laters ("see you later")
    Simples ("simple!")
    Bantz ("banter", "joking around")
    Tekkers ("good technique" at sport)

  14. maidhc said,

    May 10, 2015 @ 8:39 pm

    nemanja: There was a band called the Blues Magoos that had one hit in 1967 ("We Ain't Got Nothin' Yet").

  15. Terry Hunt said,

    May 11, 2015 @ 10:08 am

    It seems to me [= I haven't bothered to check :-)] that – like certain puns – this style of speech is a sufficiently obvious possibility that it's liable to be re-invented, or at least revived, quite frequently. As well as the 1920s and 2000s eras already mentioned, I recall examples of it used in the UK in intervening periods: springing to mind are slang at girls' boarding schools (read of but not experienced by my male self) and expressions like "spag bol" (for spaghetti bolognese) common from the 1960s on.

  16. J. W. Brewer said,

    May 11, 2015 @ 11:16 am

    Clipping has been a constant when it comes to fixed phrases, whether e.g. AmEng "Phys. Ed." for gym class, or BrEng (real estate advertising dialect) "all mod cons" (= "modern conveniences"), which admittedly puzzled many of us American kids listening to back in the day, since back then we didn't have the internet to explain jokes/allusions to us.

    What is perhaps more noteworthy and uncommon is highly productive styles of clipping that can be used for new lexical items with the assumption that the audience (at least if part of the right subculture/in-group) will "get it" without excessive need for explanation.

  17. Timothy Martin said,

    May 11, 2015 @ 2:20 pm

    This paper is amazeballs.

  18. Patrick B said,

    May 12, 2015 @ 5:47 pm

    "Although the subject matter is topical and often amusing, Lauren's work is a serious piece of morpho-phonological analysis, and I look forward to seeing a fuller verzh."

  19. Tim Martin said,

    May 13, 2015 @ 8:39 am

    Can anyone give more explanation of what "prosodic template matching" is? Google has not been helpful.

    I understand the idea of maximizing the coda of the stressed syllable – essentially you're keeping as many phonemes from the word as you can without creating a new syllable, right? But if you say this process happens "via" prosodic template matching, I don't know what that means.

  20. ohwilleke said,

    May 13, 2015 @ 10:35 pm

    Thinking about "totes" constructions, both now, and in the 1920s, some observations come to mind:

    "Totes" constructions are not a dialect of English; they are not the L1 construction of anyone. Instead, they are a speech register, acquired as an adolescent or young adult, and not just any speech register, but a high status speech register which is derivative of "Standard American English" as spoken by well educated members of the upper middle class. It has a lot in common with Pig-Latin in that respect, although it is a bit more sophisticated and somewhat less formulaic. In both cases, an important purpose of the speech register is to affirm one's own status and to exclude those who don't share it. It is a form a shibboleth.

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