December 31, 2003

Such the surprise

Rosanne over at the X-bar asks

Has anyone encountered a such + definite NP construction in American (or, really, any) English? A pal of mine uses this frequently, with (1) and (2) being recent examples.

(1) She is such the smart girl (paraphrasable as "She is a very smart girl.")
(2) ...such the happy individual.

If you'd asked me cold for an unwired judgment, I would have said that "She's such the happy individual" isn't English. I certainly don't think I ever say or write things like that, and I don't have any memory of having heard or read them either. It sounds like a mistake for "She's quite the happy individual," which in turn sounds somewhat snooty and pretentious to me, FWIW.

However, given that I can ask the internet, I find that lots of people write things like I'm such the house wench, and Poor Homer... such the victim, and I am such the good son, and Wow. You're such the better man, and I am such the sheep lately, and OMG! Avril is such the coolest! and It's such the total love fest here and They are such the whores, man and so on. Live and learn.

[Update: Though I'm venturing out of my depth here, I wonder whether there is a connection to the much-ridiculed, much-imitated emphatic 'so'.]

[Update #2: while I was composing the previous sentence, Daniel Ezra Johnson wrote:

there's also the same construction with "so" in place of "such". here, there's the chance of confusion with the "so" meaning "too" (so a sentence like in "i am so the x" could have two readings) but google provides a lot of unambiguous examples too:

"i am so the consumer whore"
"i am so the tired one today"
"i am so the smitten kitten for you, raul"

i don't think future generations of linguists are going to have to make up sentences (at least for grammatical constructions). it is so easy to find incredible ones on google! the ones given above are just the first three, not even a selected group...


p.s. "i am so the opposite. i LOVE pedicures!"

I agree about web-based exemplification, basically, with some caveats of the sort expressed here and here, and the additional observation that it's not possible to search the web for structures yet -- though in principle one could parse everything and search the results with appropriate tools.]

[Update 5/24/2004: more discussion is here.]

Posted by Mark Liberman at December 31, 2003 05:55 AM