August 16, 2004

New intensifiers

In reference to my post on bu?? naked, Dan Chiavelli emailed:

In the realm of the evolution of slang involving the word "butt" as a modifier, I have an amusing anecdote for you. A friend of mine, who originally comes from the Seattle area, used to use the word "butt" as an intensifier, like "that's butt expensive". I understood this intuitively, as did others in our circle of friends.

I found this fascinating and listened to his speech for some kind of clue of this phrase's origin, and I finally heard him say the phrase "butt ugly" with the same intonation as "butt expensive", namely stressing the "butt" (whereas I consider normal intonation to stress both words more or less equally, if not to give primary stress to the first syllable of "ugly").

I assumed this was back-formation (no pun intended) on his part from "butt ugly". What do you think? Ever heard this before?

This one is new to me, but apparently it's out there:

(link) I'm wondering if anyone knows of any sites that sell custom body jewelry, specifically for eyebrow, surface, and deep tissue piercings. I'm going to get more work done and am wondering if my ideas are way out of my price range or not, as custom jewelry tends to get butt-expensive.
(link) Finally, I've found my HG blush! the formula and the color are goof-proof; this stuff is hard to screw up. will definietly buy this again even though it is butt-expensive.
(link) It's kind of depressing because all townhouses in Howard county are butt expensive.

(link) I have seen this person sell many I-grade stones but this one looks nice and is butt-cheap and an interesting cut if anyone is in the market.
(link) I think the touchpad was the only thing keeping the entire lineup of iPaq from looking butt cheap.
(link) These things are everywhere and rightly so since they are butt cheap and cool pretty darn well.

(link) Like so many butt-stupid movies that have come before it, Swimfan is, well, butt- stupid.
(link) The world is awash with butt-stupid ideas.
(link) I know this is a butt stupid question, but I have never had this thought enter my mind.

Dan's hypothesis about its origin makes sense, though there may also be some resonance from kick-butt, which can be used directly as a nominal modifier ("kick-butt hummus", "kick-butt publicity hound", "kick-butt workbench") but also an an intensifier of other modifiers:

(link) I just want to say France is kick butt beautiful!"
(link) I just had a look at your stuff and you are kick butt good for your age!!
(link) Siu long bao is in my view the epitome of the art as well as being kick-butt tasty ...

From a bit of looking around, it seems that plain butt as in idiomatic intensifier is mainly used with qualities are that are negative, or at least can be seen as negative. Thus "butt expensive", "butt cheap" (even when that is sometimes good), "butt stupid", but not (as far as I can tell from googling) "butt intelligent" or "beautiful" or "good". By contrast, kick-butt seems mainly to go with positively-evaluated properties.

It looks like "kick-ass" and "ass" are roughly equivalent to "kick-butt" and "butt":

... right now Columbia is overrun with millions of ass-ugly cicadas ...
Have fun, it's kick ass beautiful up there.
DysFunkshun's set was kick-ass good and had the small, intimate crowd dancin' hard all night long.

though here the distribution may be affected by the influence of the pseudo-affix -ass that attaches fairly freely to adjectives: "silly-ass", "long-ass", etc.


Posted by Mark Liberman at August 16, 2004 06:29 PM