ORIGIN OF PHRASE 2 replies

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Mikey Über Admin

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#1 2 years ago

Do you ever wonder where phrases originate.

For example, RAL just said "I don't give a shit"...

and then .. what...

where does that originate.

Like.. does someone not care that much that they refuse to take a shit? I'm .. what.

huh?

belaouris


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RadioactiveLobster Forum Admin

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#2 2 years ago

To explain this, I'm going to go on a little adventure, so bear with me (or don't; skip the next two paragraphs if you want a shorter explanation). In linguistics, especially historical linguistics, there is what's called the Jespersen Cycle, named after Otto Jespersen. Basically, the Jespersen Cycle refers to a progression of marking negation from using one negative marker, to using the negative marker and another marker, to finally using only this latter marker. The classic example of this is found in French: in Old French negation was expressed with the adverb ne 'not', thus je ne sais 'I don't know'. Later, it became mandatory to include a second marker pas: je ne sais pas. Finally, in modern French one can drop the ne, leaving only the pas: je sais pas (or j'sais pas). Written French, at least 'proper' written French, is still in the middle stage of the cycle, but the ne is absent the majority of the time in spoken French. Let's look at the marker pas. Literally this means 'step' (it's cognate with 'pace', or rather is its etymon). Originally pas was only used with verbs of motion: something like je ne vais pas meaning 'I don't go a step'. This is sort of negative emphasis is common cross-linguistically, and we have parallel constructions today in English ('I won't move an inch', 'Do you drink?' 'Not a drop'). In fact, English not is originally from an Old English contraction meaning 'no thing'. At the same time that pas was used this way, there were other such words as well, but pas was eventually generalised into a second, post-verbal negative marker. When something is doubly marked, only one of the markings is necessary to get the meaning, the other may be lost without any loss in meaning. Still with me? Sorry about that. So the shit of 'I don't give a shit' is another of these negative emphatics, doubly so because of its obscenity. We can also say 'you don't know shit', 'I can't see shit', and so on. Earlier, the saying was 'I don't give a damn' (which we can still say); the replacement by shit is more emphatic still, given that shit is a stronger swear than damn. There are lots of other variations on this phrase; I'm sure you can think of many. Why 'give' anyway? This is unclear, but you can find some colorful stories on the internet. It is not unlikely that the earlier phrase was 'not give a' and then some unit of currency or amount. The phrase 'not worth a damn' is also of reasonable age and well attested, so the substitution of 'damn' for an amount is rather old. Relatively popular theories are that the original was dam, dime, or tinker's dam(n). Dam was an Indian coin worth less than a rupee, but phrases with damn are attested earlier than I for one would think dam would be commonly enough known by English folk to be used in such a phrase, and dam used in this way is in any case not attested until much later and as an explanation. Seems unlikely. Similarly for tinker's dam(n): forms with tinker's anything don't crop up until the 19th century, which is too late to have originated this usage. Dime is perhaps more appealing, but this would seem to suppose a later and American origin of the phrase, which seems not to obtain. None of these similar words is even necessary, as damn could have been used as an emphatic substitution regardless. Hope that helps.

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Mikey Über Admin

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#3 2 years ago

dicks


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