January 25, 2005

* me P and call me *

Tom Anderson sent a pointer to the Google Meme Observatory, noting the similarity to our occasional posts on "snowclones".

While we're on the topic, there's a phrase of this type that I took a look at recently, following a question from a reader, for which it's hard to craft a good web-search query. The general pattern is something like "<change my state> and call me <a name appropriate given the change>".

Some examples:

...roll me up and call me curly...
...blow me down and call me shorty...
...dress me up and call me Sally...
...grease me up and call me slider...
...knock me out and call me ignorant...

Some of the examples are more complicated, for example

(link) Does the denial continue? Slap me down and call me conservative, but from outside the force field of Clinton's charm pentangle, a place I happen to inhabit because of my foreignness, the guy looks a tad over-rated.
(link) Among them is Sgt. John Falstaff, who in a dream sequence sings a coarse song ("Oil me up and call me Tex / I want cold, cold cash and red-hot sex") accompanied by a glitter ball and the clichéd pelvic thrusting indispensable to bawdy references in Shakespeare.

After looking over a large number of examples, I don't think that I can provide a single intepretation that fits all circumstances, even allowing for sincere/ironic pairs like "it's very surprising" and "it's not surprising at all." There do seem to be cases where this acts like a "construction", that is, a multi-word pattern with a non-compositional pairing of form and meaning. But there seem to be other cases where it's just a pattern chosen for its formal symmetry and amiable rhythm, without any added conventional interpretation. However, I may just be out of the loop on this bit of culture, I don't know.

And I'm not sure whether the preposition (up,down or out in the cited examples) is obligatory or not.

Whatever its meaning(s), this pattern is of course completely different from the phrasal template " take two <objects interpreted as medicine> and call me in the morning".

[Update: Margaret Schroeder points out that I could

Try googling {"and call me" -take -morning}; I think you'll find the results interesting. There are enough results, for example, to show plenty of such expressions without either "up" or "down."

I did try patterns like that. What I was missing was an easy way to ask for cases where the word before "and call" is not a preposition. But I gave up too easily, because on the second page returned from Margaret's query, I found "...line my eyes and call me pretty", which suggests that (this aspect of) the pattern is prosodic rather than syntactic.

And Rich Alderson wrote to provide a classical reference, making the same point:

The state need not be adverbial, and seems from my experience to be obligatory. In the 1994 Damon Wayans movie _Blankman_, there is an exchange between Wayans and a prototypical brawler:

Brawler: I'm warning you!
Wayans: Well slap me silly and call me Susan!
<Brawler slaps Wayans into stack of waste receptacles or the like>
Brawler: I warned you, Susan!

The phrase type wasn't particularly new at the time, it seems to me.

Thanks to both. But I still don't really "get" these phrases, somehow. ]

[And Joshua Macy writes in with a link to his blog entry on this phrasal pattern, with several other neat examples, including Foghorn Leghorn's "well roll me in corn-flour and call me dinner". Joshua hypothesizes that an initial well "seems to be an important part of the phrase". Though it's not absolutely essentially -- these constructions (or collocations, or whatever they are) have fuzzy edges!

Now I have another question: are there real-life versions of this pattern with some alternative phrasing for "call me" -- say "refer to me as"? Or are there related patterns that don't involve naming at all, like <change my state> and make me <do something appropriate to the new state>? ]

[Yet another update: Peter Erwin writes:

Enjoyed your recent Language Log post on "<change my state> and call me <something>".

As a slight bit of further evidence in favor of the argument that you don't need a preposition -- and partial evidence that this is a fairly old pattern -- I can offer: "Well, strip my gears and call me shiftless."

I first heard this in London in 1987, as part of an general orientation session for American students doing a study-abroad semester in England. The actual context was the (American) speaker warning us that some of our stereotypes about the English were probably rather out of date: "English people no longer say, 'Blimey, guv', just as Americans no longer say, 'Well, strip my gears and call me shiftless'..."

The implication was that the "strip my gears" phrase (which *I'd* certainly never heard before) had once been current -- and had perhaps become part of English stereotypes about what American said -- but was now quite old-fashioned.

Actually, there's a nice collection of this and similar sayings here: http://accweb.itr.maryville.edu/schwartz/saws%20surprise.htm


John Cowan writes

I'm just beginning to listen to the PBS program "Do You Speak American?" (hosted by Robert McNeil, who of course doesn't), and I just heard "Well, butter my butt and call me a biscuit". Thought you'd want to know.

Thanks, John -- one more nail in the coffin of the idea that a preposition at the end of the first clause is part of this pattern. Not that the lid isn't pretty well fastened already. This example also reinforces the notion that a good instance of this pattern should be a four-beat line, with the "and" coming after the second beat. A metrical snowclone? ]


Posted by Mark Liberman at January 25, 2005 01:55 PM