Phrasal type shifting

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David Craig points out an interesting usage in today's Frazz: "They're for just because."

I discussed the process of turning phrases into modifiers in "Phrasally grateful", 10/18/2007:

If you run out of conventional adjectives and adverbs, the English language stands ready to help. Just package an evocative phrase or two with an appropriate prosodic inflection, and you're on your way […]

As the Frazz example illustrates, you can also use a similar process to make noun phrases, though I think it's much less common.

Here's the whole strip:

There also seem sometimes to be quasi-phrasal extensions of the "Because NOUN" pattern, like this one:

We will skip the discussion of whether assimilation itself is a "racist" goal, because jesus christ fuck you grad school.



18 Comments

  1. J Zevin said,

    April 21, 2013 @ 9:32 pm

    I see the second case a lot with "which," too. As in:

    Also unusual: Mr. Teeth's owner, Assif Mayr, purchased the alligator in 1996 "to commemorate the death of rapper Tupac Shakur," which, sure, why not.

    via Gawker.

    But I always read it pragmatically as a truncation to simulate interrupting oneself, having reached the limit of what one is willing or able to deal with logically.

  2. Jerry Friedman said,

    April 21, 2013 @ 9:38 pm

    Are these examples? "For sure", "for just in case", "for in case it rains", "for if it rains".

  3. djbcjk said,

    April 22, 2013 @ 3:26 am

    Let's not forget Springfield's annual Just Because Day in the Simpsons.

  4. Richard Wein said,

    April 22, 2013 @ 6:43 am

    I think the general pattern here is an expected grammatical unit being replaced by an unexpected one which still expresses the expected semantic content, but in a different way. The defiance of expectation produces an interesting effect, which you may find amusing, cute, grating, etc.

    Jerry, I think the boundary between the phenomenon we're talking about and natural usage is a fuzzy one. Some such usages will see more abnormal than others in the first place. And even initially abnormal cases may become normal with familiarity. Your latter three examples are all cases of giving a reason for doing something, and they seem like purely pragmatic and useful ways of expressing such a reason, with probably no intention to create any special effect. They feel fairly natural to me, to varying degrees, and I'm inclined to accept them as normal usage. I have no idea how "for sure" got started. It's not common on this side of the Atlantic.

    J Zevin quoted: "…which, sure, why not."

    Interesting. The more usual version is "…and why not". The writer here probably didn't see "…which why not" as a natural construction. The interjection of "sure" creates a pause, allowing a change of trajectory.

  5. angrysoba said,

    April 22, 2013 @ 7:46 am

    I'm sorry to bother everyone here, but I read this piece recently by a chap called Peter Hitchens and wondered if there was anything worth saying about his comments here:

    "CAN'T TV programme-makers try a bit harder to recreate the past? I lived in Oxford in the mid-Sixties, the period in which ITV's new detective drama Endeavour is supposed to be set.
    I understand that the shabby, tourist-free city of those days – with its steamy cattle-market, pungent brewery and busy factories, cannot be recreated.
    But nobody wrote the figure seven in the continental style (with a horizontal line through the middle). Nobody took 'medication' (it was called 'medicine'), or said 'there you go'. Women didn't wear pearls while pinning washing on the line. And the Vicar was the Rev John Blenkinsop, or Mr Blenkinsop. He was never, ever Reverend Blenkinsop, a stupid, ignorant Americanism nearly as bad as 'bored of', 'can I get?', and 'train station'."

    http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2013/04/what-decriminalise-really-means-is-were-giving-junkies-a-drug-den-next-door-to-you/comments/page/4/#comments

    He might be making a correct observation about the way people did speak but to say that "bored of" or "can I get" are stupid, ignorant Americanisms seems to me be getting language very wrong.

  6. Faldone said,

    April 22, 2013 @ 9:00 am

    I also found interesting Mr. Spaetzle's comment, "The birthday the flowers aren't for." Pied-pipe that and you get something that I would barely recognize as English.

  7. Matt_M said,

    April 22, 2013 @ 12:22 pm

    @Faldone: Interesting point. I wonder how any language that doesn't allow preposition-stranding (i.e. the vast majority) would express that idea?

  8. Edith said,

    April 22, 2013 @ 6:13 pm

    @Matt_M: I guess something like "The birthday for which the flowers are not." Hardly English but (I think) the only way you could say it in Romanian, my mother tongue.

  9. Edith said,

    April 22, 2013 @ 6:16 pm

    *barely English above. Seems like even thinking about my first language is enough to throw my English right off.

  10. djbcjk said,

    April 23, 2013 @ 2:38 am

    @angrysoba

    Try the prochronism site:

    http://www.prochronism.com/

  11. Pflaumbaum said,

    April 23, 2013 @ 7:21 am

    @ Edith

    I'm not a native speaker, but wouldn't the more natural way be to use a resumptive pronoun after pentru, din causa or whatever the pronoun was?

  12. Alex Blaze said,

    April 23, 2013 @ 9:43 am

    I've noticed the "because noun" thing recently too (recently as in a year or two ago). I never heard it before that; maybe there were people saying it but I just didn't notice. But it's my take that it's used intentionally, for effect or because people think it's cute (note the two links here are from wonkette and gawker).

    @angrysoba: Those sorts of "Americans don't speak real English" and "English people sound stupid" comments remind me most of an Einstein quotation: "Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind."

  13. Jason said,

    April 24, 2013 @ 12:35 am

    @Matt_M:

    In Tok Pisin, it would be

    TOP = topicalizer SUB = Subordinator NEG = Negator PLUR = Plural DET = Determiner PRED = Predicate Marker GEN = Genitive PRON=Pronoun DEFNUM = Definite Number

    Dei mama karim ia we nogat ol dispela plaua i blong em.
    Day mother bearing TOP SUB NEG PLUR DET.THIS flower PRED GEN PRON.DEFNUM
    The mother-bearing day that not these flowers are for it.

  14. Paulus said,

    April 24, 2013 @ 3:40 am

    There's also the newish expression "because reasons", as in

    I'm a guy who has not nor will ever buy a hand towel because reasons.

  15. Matt_M said,

    April 24, 2013 @ 10:30 am

    Thanks, Edith, Pflaumbaum, and Jason. The forms with resumptive pronouns (like the Tok Pisin example) seem quite natural to me — but there still seems something odd about Edith's Romanian example. Is that sort of thing — "The birthday for which the flowers are not" — as easy for native speakers to parse as "the birthday that the flowers aren't for" is for native speakers of English?

  16. Areios said,

    April 26, 2013 @ 5:28 pm

    @Matt_M:

    In German it is the same as in Romanian: Der Geburtstag, für den die Blumen nicht sind. (Literally: The birthday for which the flowers not are.) And a similar construction is used in Latin and Spanish, too.

  17. Messalina said,

    April 27, 2013 @ 4:44 pm

    I have always associated these turns of phrase ("because NOUN" and the like) with David Foster Wallace, whose wayward way with the English language (so very American) I first encountered in essays in Harper's back in the 90's. Did he pioneer these patterns or popularize them? They struck me as something completely new and original at the time: the formal essay that played fast and loose with the reader, switching registers with abandon and sprinkling spoken language into prose.

    I did a quick Google search and came up with the following example from this online vault of his works.

    Also on display is the expo's second economy–the populist evangelism of the rural Midwest. It is not your cash they want but to "Make a Difference in Your Life." And they make no bones about it. A Church of God booth offers a Computerized Bible Quiz. Its computer is CompuVacish in appearance. I go eighteen for twenty on the quiz and am invited behind a chamois curtain for a "person-to-person faith exploration," which no thanks.

    (from "Ticket to the Fair," Harper's, July 1994)

  18. Alon Lischinsky said,

    April 28, 2013 @ 4:54 am

    @Matt_M: Spanish handles this as Edith says Romanian does, by using a relative pronoun after the preposition: "Ese cumpleaños para el que no le habías comprado las flores" would be the most idiomatic translation, although hardly felicitous outside this specific interactional context.

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