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The intensifier ‘ass’, in snippets

snippets journal publishes notes that contribute to the study of syntax and semantics in generative grammar. The notes are brief, self-contained and explicit. For an example of the content, can we recommend a 2011 paper by Professor Daniel Siddiqi (Carlton University, US) who examines the ‘ass’ intensifier.

“English has recently developed a new intensifier, ass, which means something very close to very, is marked as vulgar and colloquial, and appears in cases such as in (1):

a.That is a big-ass chair
b. It is a cold-ass night
c. It is freezing-ass cold”

Ass has a restriction that it appear with phonology on either side, suggesting that it is an infix. However, unlike other infixes, ass`s restrictions on its distribution are that it requires syntactic heads (in the same phrase) to be on either side of it. This, of course, seems to be a standard case of tmesis, but tmesis , on a morpho-syntactic level, is typically constrained to compound nouns or morphologically complex words (suggesting morpho-phonemic restriction). This suggests that ass infixation does not seem to be typical tmesis either. This makes the English intensifier ass a curious SYNTACTIC infix, perhaps providing more evidence for a sophisticated morphology-syntax interface.“

See: The English intensifier ass ‘ in: snippets, issue 23, May 2011.

• The lower-case ‘s’ in snippets is intentional.
‘Tmesis’ is defined (in Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913 + 1828) thus:

Tme”sis (?), n. [L., from Gr. a cutting, fr. to cut.] (Gram.) The separation of the parts of a compound word by the intervention of one or more words; as, in what place soever, for whatsoever place.

Also see: (only loosely, if at all, related) Dr. Gillis’s Kick Butt™ ball.

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