Friendly friend friendly

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Yesterday's Sally Forth:

We've had a number of LL posts on the X X phenomenon — and I believe that we've cited some published research on the topic — but it's not easy to figure out a quick way to find such things.

However, I think that this is first example I've seen with the form X-ly X X-ly.

[Update — Ran Ari-Gur obliged with the links, here and here. The key piece of linguistic terminology is "Contrastive Focus Reduplication".]


  1. Ginger Yellow said,

    July 20, 2011 @ 8:17 am

    This cartoon is also quite a good example of the importance of implicature.

  2. Jennifer said,

    July 20, 2011 @ 9:21 am

    I'm always amused when, discussing my dietary choices, someone asks "You're vegan? Are you VEGAN vegan?" It happens more than I would have ever expected. They often just want to know if I buy leather shoes, but I am tempted to quote the (vegan) comedian Myq Kaplan and say, "Careful! Don't say it again or another one will appear!"

  3. Ran Ari-Gur said,

    July 20, 2011 @ 11:11 am

    > We've had a number of LL posts on the X X phenomenon — and I believe that we've cited some published research on the topic — […]

    You posted about it on the "old" Language Log on June 11, 2007, citing published research:

    Dr. Zimmer added another example later the same day:

    Google finds some stray mentions of it in comments on the "new" Language Log, but nothing worth linking to that I can see.

    [(myl) Thanks!]

  4. Clauss said,

    July 20, 2011 @ 11:41 am

    This X.Adj X.N X.Adj runs a little closer to the meme-driven X Y is X. If Sally Forth drops that one, my brain will fall out.

  5. Sam said,

    July 20, 2011 @ 12:10 pm

    There is a paper in NATURAL LANGUAGE & LINGUISTIC THEORY by Jila Ghomeshi et al that covers some of the characteristics of this kind of contrastive reduplication in English. For those interested, the full text (or. rather, a draft of it) is available here:

    @Jennifer: I admire your taste in food and comedy.

  6. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 20, 2011 @ 12:46 pm

    I'm a little confused by what "friendly friend friendly" might mean (or imply or, um, implicaturate?) that "friendly friendly" (presumably with greater stress on the first one) wouldn't. Can anyone enlighten me?

  7. Faldone said,

    July 20, 2011 @ 1:10 pm

    It's a better setup for the punch line.

  8. eyesay said,

    July 20, 2011 @ 1:18 pm

    Polanski was not guilty of 'rape-rape', says Whoopi Goldberg

    As a guest on The View chatshow on US television, she said: "I know it wasn't rape-rape. It was something else but I don't believe it was rape-rape. He went to jail and and when they let him out he was like, 'You know what, this guy's going to give me a hundred years in jail. I'm not staying.' So that's why he left."

  9. Mona Williams said,

    July 20, 2011 @ 2:03 pm

    I love her glazed expression and still-quote-making fingers in the last panel. It's as though if she made enough finger-quotes it would all become clear.

  10. GeorgeW said,

    July 20, 2011 @ 2:55 pm

    I am curious about the origin of the term 'reduplication.' This would seem to require a form be used four times:

    Single: Friend
    Dulicated: Friend Friend
    Reduplicated: Friend Friend Friend Friend

    [(myl) Reduplication, the OED tells us, means "The action of making or becoming double", or "Exact or partial repetition of a word, phrase, etc.". This may be illogical, but the fault goes back to Latin, where reduplicatio meant "repetition". Or perhaps the Greeks are to blame, since reduplicatio may be a calque of ἀναδίπλωσις.]

  11. Nathan Myers said,

    July 20, 2011 @ 3:09 pm

    It means sex. But you knew that, right?

  12. Faldone said,

    July 20, 2011 @ 3:49 pm

    That "glazed expression" in the last panel is more a function of the cartoonist's drawing style than anything inherent in Hilary's state of mind.

  13. Kylopod said,

    July 20, 2011 @ 6:29 pm

    Around the late-'80s, early-'90s or so, there was a "For Better or Worse" where Mike's girlfriend explains that there's this other guy she likes, but she doesn't, y'know, like, and Mike thinks to himself, "A likely story." I think that was actually an old joke common in sitcoms. It's not quite the same as the "X X" phenomenon you're talking about, but it has similarities in the way it tries to imply something without spelling it out, and the way it suggests a true or ultimate version of something (liking, or friend-ness) and a kind of faux or "lite" version, if you will.

  14. Julie said,

    July 20, 2011 @ 6:31 pm

    In this case, Hilary is concerned that her mother may think she has a Boyfriend. (I think she's still and forever eleven, so sex is probably not an issue.)

  15. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 20, 2011 @ 6:49 pm

    I understand what the girl is trying to convey; I just don't understand why "friendly but not FRIENDLY friendly" wouldn't convey it just as well.

  16. Mo said,

    July 20, 2011 @ 7:58 pm

    I feel like there are only a few terms where this is very common. In cases like "like-like" ( the meaning has been lexified, so that a sentence like "he like-likes her" makes sense out of context. However for most other words, a sentence like "he's making salad-salad" wouldn't make sense without the proper context.

  17. WillSteed said,

    July 20, 2011 @ 9:26 pm

    I think it's quite productive, but it has to be in a syntactically and semantically contrastive context, as in "He's not making fake salad; he's making salad-salad." It's productive in that you can substitute pretty much any noun you like with a minimum of difference (like adding a determiner for a count noun).

    It also works for nonsense words: "He's not making a fake quirkle; he's making a quirkle-quirkle."

  18. Ross Presser said,

    July 21, 2011 @ 1:19 am

    It doesn't crop up in this comic, of course — but "Friends friends" could have another meaning: friends like the people on the sitcom Friends.

  19. Nathan Myers said,

    July 21, 2011 @ 2:19 am

    I can't tell from the drawings how old they are, and it's been a long time since I was 11, but I gather things have changed, there, more than many of us, myself included, prefer to contemplate. The cartoonist must also be a long way from 11, so that may not matter much. Any fine age-dependent distinction between "friendly-friend-friendly" and we-desperately-assume-inchoate sexual interest is a matter for gossips and snoops, and not (I hope) linguists.

  20. SmR said,

    July 21, 2011 @ 3:21 am

    This comes up in Modern Hebrew too, but with a slightly different meaning. For example, the expression for a "real man" is a "gever gever" ("man-man"). And the sentence "This isn't just an x, it's an x x" ("Ze lo stam x, ze x x" with emphasis on the second x) can be used with just about any noun (e.g., about an extraordinarily good salad, you might say, "This isn't just a salad, it's a salad-salad.")

  21. Pflaumbaum said,

    July 21, 2011 @ 3:46 am

    @ J W Brewer –

    I think there is a difference. The joke springs from the particular usage of friend employed by mothers to mean boyfriend/girlfriend in reference to children when they're still very young, and friendly is initially set against this as describing ordinary platonic friends. I parse friendly friend friendly as [[friendly [friend friendly]], with friend friendly as a gloss on friendly, meaning having a relationship that a mother would use the word 'friend' to denote. This is echoing the same use of friend in the sentence before.

    Friendly friendly might imply roughly the same thing, but it wouldn't work as well in the context because it lacks the quotative element – mothers don't use friendly the same way as friend. Also, as Faldone says, this sets the punchline up better as you get more friends in. The cartoonist also stops using quotation marks at that point, presumably to add to the sense of a word pile-up.

    Maybe my parsing is wrong, though…

  22. Chris Waters said,

    July 21, 2011 @ 7:59 am

    @Pflaumbaum: I parse friendly friend friendly as [[friendly friend] friendly], as in, the type of friendly(ness) that friendly friends have. Friends can be friend friendly, but only friendly friends can be friendly friend friendly.

  23. Pflaumbaum said,

    July 21, 2011 @ 8:34 am

    @ Chris

    Interesting. I think that was my first reading too, but then I decided only [friendly [friend friendly]] could account for the sense. That is, I think the mother's usage – let's call it Mildly Euphemistic Friend – applies to the word friend, rather than to friendly. Or at least, that's the context in the strip up till then (I can imagine her using friendly in an arch way, as in 'Hilary's real friendly with that boy', but not in the more innocent sense of 'You know Hilary's got a friend?').

    What Hilary is doing in the last sentence is introducing the new usage of friendly, as the adjectival version of Mildly Euphemistic Friend. So it's Mildly Euphemistic Friend I'd expect to be used as a gloss.

  24. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 21, 2011 @ 10:40 am

    Maybe Pflaumbaum is right that part of what's going on is setting up the punchline. If the girl's attempt to extend the idiomatic use of contrastive reduplication is sort of spinning out of control and losing intelligibility, that feeds into the aneurysm concern.

  25. Chris Waters said,

    July 21, 2011 @ 7:24 pm

    Once you've introduced two meaning of friend, I don' t see any reason why two meanings of friendly would be a stretch. It seems intuitive to me. True that her mother may have only actively assigned new meaning to the word friend, but I still think that leaves it open to easy, obvious interpretation as applying to friendly as well. As you say, she's introducing the new meaning of friendly, but I don' t think she's doing it in quite as formal a way as you seem be suggesting. I seriously doubt she cares whether she's using her new meaning in her new definition—she's on a roll!

    If I'm understanding you correctly, your suggestion seems to imply a level of careful precision that is rather unrealistic for a teenaged girl, combined with an unnecessary level of awkwardness. Even for a teenaged girl. One or the other I might accept, but when I need to accept both, and there's a obvious, plausible alternative, I have to wield Occam's famous razor.

    I could see "Not friendly but friendly. Friend friendly." But I believe the period (or some punctuation) is mandatory in that parsing, so I still prefer [[friendly friend] friendly]. It was definitely fun to think about why I preferred it, though, so thanks.

  26. Rubrick said,

    July 22, 2011 @ 4:24 am

    I think those who are trying to interpret "friendly friend friendly…" as a complete unit are wrongly ignoring the ellipsis. My assumption was that she continued on: "friendly friend friendly friendly-friendly friend friend friendly friend", perhaps.

    Or maybe she's actually having an aneurysm. But not an aneurysm aneurysm, of course.

  27. Pflaumbaum said,

    July 22, 2011 @ 4:52 am

    @ Chris –

    I wasn't implying that the underlying motivation for the phrase was conscious on the part of the character (or even the cartoonist).

    But yeah, I'm losing confidence in my parsing too. There's no reading of it that's particularly natural to my ear… in fact it sounds like she's having some sort of aneurism.

  28. A. said,

    July 22, 2011 @ 5:55 am

    I once heard "She's special, I mean, she's Special Olympics special" IRL. And I wouldn't be surprised if someone used "free-speech free" and "free-beer free".

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